The one reminder we should set for life

remember to thank God phone reminder

It is a universally accepted fact that one of the primary jobs of a parent is to nag your kids ad nauseam about saying “please” and “thank you.” They demand a cookie; you reply sing-songingly “What’s the magic word?” They beg to open birthday gifts; you interject a rhythmic “Well, what do you say?” after each is torn into and tossed aside.

Given my constant chorus of sometimes gentle, more times exasperated reminders, it irks me that my boys still forget to utter these common courtesies on a daily basis. Why is it they can’t recall these simple phrases they learned and even signed with their cute, pudgy hands as infants?

The lack of thanks especially bothers me. How have they grown into such gimme gremlins who expect milk to be served on tap and my phone to be accessed anytime for whatever random, nonsensical questions they want to ask Siri? It’s not like we’ve raised them in a day spa equipped with silver spoons and bunk bedside service.

Amidst this aggravation, it hit me that my incredulity at my sons’ ingratitude should be tempered by the knowledge that a) they’re 6- and 4-years-old; b) all kids can act ill-mannered at times and are by nature whiners; c) I do my best to provide a wealth of love and meet their basic needs, so of course they’ve become accustomed to abundant care and can occasionally take it for granted; and, most strikingly, d) I’m much worse at giving thanks than they are.

This conviction recently latched onto me and pierced my heart down to its most prideful parts. A single, frank comment posed in response to a sarcastic statement I made on social media cut my tongue right through to the cheek: “You should count your blessings.”

Oof. That stings, and spins so many self-incriminating wheels turning: Am I truly ungrateful? Have I fallen into complacent indifference to this bountiful life God has given me? Do I frequently fail to praise Him for the grace upon grace He provides every day? Has my preoccupation with perceived shortfalls eclipsed my appreciation for tangible windfalls – my husband, my children, my friends, my home?

In deed and in word, I can be ungrateful at times, and far too often, my numerous blessings go uncounted. Even though my heart recognizes the need for and importance of giving thanks, my mind habitually forgets to express it, to my own detriment.

In her latest book, “The Broken Way,” Ann Voskamp conveys the risk we take maintaining this gaping mental lapse: “Whenever I forget, fear walks in … Forget to give thanks – and you forget who God is. Forget to break and give – and it’s your soul that gets broken.”

When we forget to thank God, we lose our grip on the reality of our relationship – the essence of our lives’ dependence on Him – a kind of fatal spiritual amnesia.

How could we be so dense as to blank out on these truths? Perhaps we can blame our biology.

Thankfulness should theoretically be stored in long-term memory, which is permanent but requires conscious thought and is subject to weakening over time. Forgetting from long-term memory can be explained through retrieval failure – as one professor of psychiatry and aging described in an article on tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon (i.e., brain farts): “… if you don’t retrieve a memory often, it may be harder to remember. You know you have it somewhere, but you just haven’t used the information for a while. It gets a little a bit dusty.”

Lord knows how dusty-headed and absentminded His people can be, which could be why He repeats the concept of thanks more than 200 times throughout Scripture (according to KJV Hebrew and Greek concordances). In the Old Testament, “thank” appears most frequently as yahdah, which literally means to use the hand; to throw – think: hands extended in praise and confession. In the New Testament, it often shows up as eucharisteo, from the roots eu = good/well + charis = grace, as in Colossians 3:17: “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

In whatever we do, we must do whatever it takes to remember to thank God, to thank others, to live with hands outspread in thanksgiving for our redemption. Our Father has faithfully provided reminders throughout His Word to cue gratitude: through the aromas and rituals of thank offerings and Passover, through songs and hymns of praise, through the breaking of bread and pouring of wine in remembrance of the Cross.

As Voskamp intones, like a doxology, “the eucharisteo, then koinonia”: “Everything He embodied in the Last Supper – it is what would heal the body’s brokenness. Brokenness can be healed in re-membering. Remembering our union, our communion, our koinonia, with Christ.”

This is Truth worth committing to memory. It is a commitment, and because we’re human, requires reminders – whether that’s a note on the mirror, a notification on a phone, a song, a smell, a memento or alert of some kind – whatever signal or process that can help jog our memories of our undeserved grace and trigger the flow of our praise.

I’m still figuring out the best way to do this. Maybe I’ll recruit my boys to aid me in this effort and repay me for all the nagging I do to them. I can hear them now, chanting wholeheartedly: “Mom-my, you forgot to say thank-you.”

Nice reminder, kids. Irritating, but necessary, and vital for living life to the fullest.

When you can’t use a gift because you’re giving another

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I have an unusual entry in my Top 10 list of favorite Christmas movies. Growing up, during the insufferably lengthy holiday break, my mom tried to snatch a moment of sanity by popping in a VHS of the luminous masterpiece that is the BBC’s version of “The Chronicles of Narnia.” My siblings and I merrily binged on the B- grade videos, captivated by the monstrously sized animal costumes and enthralled with the child actors’ British accents and whiny line reads.

One of the memorable scenes in the first movie, “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe,” is when Father Christmas makes a surprise appearance and delivers gifts to the children – to Peter, a shield and sword; to Susan, a bow and horn; to Lucy, a dagger and bottle of healing cordial. The St. Nicholas doppelganger explains that the presents “… are tools not toys. The time to use them is perhaps near at hand. Bear them well.”

While Peter and Susan use their tools/weapons shortly afterwards, Lucy doesn’t implement her potion until much later in the storyline, right after the battle, when she dispenses the remedy to save her other brother, Edmund. The youngest character – and inarguably, most loyal believer in the Lion/Redeemer Aslan – has to wait through most of the plot to use her incredible gift of healing.

There’s a gift I had to wait many Christmases to impart. I knew it was an ability I possessed – a longing God placed in my heart – I just lacked the opportunity to carry it out because I could not conceive or carry a child.

God did what He does, in providing mercies beyond what we ask or deserve, and blessed me with two loud, energetic boys that allow me to fulfill the gift of motherhood and engage my skills of nurturing, teaching, and cleaning all manner of messes.

Now, the tension between which gifts I want to give and which gifts I can give is different. Being a mom is gratifying and challenging and joy-bringing and humbling, and it also takes a lot of time. Sometimes I wish I could do more, cultivate other talents – specifically, writing. But my parenting style and annoyance threshold are such that I can’t ignore the chaos long enough to concentrate at the computer. So I can’t do more; I can’t give more.

And honestly, it can be frustrating. Buried talents bear no fruit.

Others might understand these feelings of gift neglect. I know individuals who are talented speakers, teachers, and medical professionals who cannot readily implement these skills because they’re caring for their families, and tending to sick loved ones, and guiding important ministries – doing hard and good things to serve others at the cost of letting certain gifts lie dormant.

This holding back can make you discouraged, upset that your current commitments are stifling your other abilities … making you ashamed for feeling discontent about your present acts of service … making you become disillusioned with the idea of who you thought God created you to be … making your work now seem labored, overwrought from all the overanalyzing you’ve done about this whole gift thing. Or maybe that’s just me.

Maybe God is simply stashing away our gifts to mature us, or to teach us some truth during our wait, or to preserve them until the exact moment someone needs saving, as in the case of Lucy and her cordial.

Regardless of the reasons for His timing, we know from God’s Word that gifts should be used for the common good (1 Corinthians 12:7) and for building up the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:12). Sure, we can find joy in our jam, but the main purpose for any special abilities God grants us isn’t our personal gratification. They’re for the edification of others and the exaltation of His name (1 Peter 4:10-11).

There’s encouragement to be gained when we recognize the ultimate goals for our gifts and focus on the truth about God’s character and our worth in Him.

Be patient. God is honing that beautiful bent of yours – the one He gave you through the overflow of His abundant goodness – and He will not fail His purposes for it, and for you.

Live now. Each day is full of new mercies and opportunities to draw on the Lord’s strength and diffuse His blessings to others through whatever services your hands find to supply.

Walk by faith. The Spirit gives gifts as He wills according to His manifold grace. We can live assured that His love poured out to us for others will not be wasted.

We can bear our gifts well regardless of whether or not we can yield them immediately. All we must do is trust God to let us use them when and how He wants and take the present step of obedience glorifying Him as the Giver of life everlasting.

Dear Church: Carry light in your lament for our nation

US flag candle light pray for America

Fury. Grief. An overwhelming number of sad and seething emojis.

If my social media feed is any indication of greater societal trends, people in the wake of the election are bursting with emotions – most of which are in some way negative – and are voicing them every whichway possible.

This has turned what is already a potentially insidious trap that has been shown to exacerbate depression into a stirring pot of criticism, vindictiveness, dejection, and impulsive outbursts of verbal bile. It only takes a quick swipe or scroll through to slip down into the sinkhole of despair.

Christians should absolutely be concerned over the fallout from this election regardless of whom they voted for. There are deeply rooted, abhorrent issues of hostility and cruelty in our country that are devastating lives, and for that, we should mourn.

Further complicating matters, the difficulty knowing how to address these issues and how to respond to Donald Trump’s appointment to the presidency has severely divided believers. Those who are called to bear with one another with love are instead lashing out in contempt and outright rejecting other viewpoints while seizing some self-appointed platform of righteous indignation. This dissension within the body of Christ is distressing, and for that, we should grieve.

In all these recent public expressions of empathy for and solidarity with those who may be frightened and disenfranchised by the results of the election, there’s a notable lack of gospel telling from those in the evangelical community. Many are willing if not eager to display their personal frustration and defend theirs and others’ rights to be upset, but the support ends there. They strive to offer consolation, or beg for it to be shown to them, yet fail to mention the ultimate Source of all comfort.

This unrest in our nation is granting us believers an opportunity to share not just our feelings, but our faith. We must not merely commiserate with those who are hurting, but also communicate the reason for our hope. The Good News that emboldened the early church to joyfully overcome political and religious persecution still prevails today over conflict, over hate, over a controversial President-Elect.

Jesus wept over Jerusalem. We can likewise weep over our broken world and point it toward its Savior.

I’m convinced that can best be accomplished through humility, gratitude, peace-championing, and most of all, prayer – seeking the wisdom that is above for healing the world that is below.

Let’s get on our knees, Church. We can feel all the feels, weep with those who weep, cry out for justice and compassion and grace while also desperately, wholeheartedly clutching the Truth and proclaiming that which sets us free, which shines light in dark places, which enables us to grieve with hope for redemption.

Out of muddy water

My friend Jessica and I went to college together years ago. We lived in the same dorm, and she served as my sister’s RA our senior year.

Since our days as Ballard Babes, Jessi has endured some incredible ups and downs in her family life: marrying her husband, Ryan, giving birth to her first son, Lucas, losing her brother, John, and facing the breast cancer diagnosis of her mother, Cyndi. Earlier this year, she experienced another heartache: delivering and saying goodbye to her second son, Brody, in less than the span of one week.

When someone is slammed with such tremendous tragedy, those of us who have not lived through that kind of loss often find the only words we can utter are an admission of our incomprehension: “I can’t even imagine what that would be like.”

 That is my heart with this post. By sharing Jessi’s story – the story of Brody’s life – I hope to help those of us on the outside, looking in, to imagine and thus better empathize with the thoughts and feelings and daily life motions of one family navigating the loss of their child shortly after birth.

 I thank Jessi and Ryan for courageously sharing their son’s life, granting us a glimpse into their sorrow, and demonstrating how those who know Jesus can grieve with hope.

Boschma family interview infant loss remembrance

Brody was born on February 20th. He was with us for five days.

Those five days were very much up and down. They were doing everything they could to save him, and thankfully, the doctors were making sure he wasn’t in pain. Before his birth, they prepared us that we may not even be able to touch him at first. We were grateful when they told us we could touch him; we just couldn’t caress him. When we placed our hands on his little foot, he would stretch and reach out, craving that touch.

Ryan and I were able to stay in the hospital with him for three days, until I was discharged from my C-section. On Brody’s last night the doctor said we could go home, reassuring us we could call anytime. We agonized over it, and decided to go home. On the way home, we talked, trying to grasp what this was going to look like. Brody was going to be in the NICU for a long time. How would we juggle it?

We got home, showered, called in to check. They told us things weren’t looking good.

We rushed back to the hospital and spent the night in his room. The next morning the doctor told us what they were doing to keep Brody alive was starting to cause irreparable damage. His little heart was strong; he was a fighter. He did not want to give up, but his body just wasn’t compatible with life.

An organization called Forget Me Not came in and asked if I wanted pictures. In their experience, they said, most families appreciated having the pictures, even if they don’t want them taken at the moment.

I didn’t. In my mind, we were praying for a miracle. We wanted a miracle. Everyone was praying for a miracle. When they handed him to me, I was going to hold him, and he was going to be healed.

+++

Two summers ago, in August, we shared the news with family the day we took the pregnancy test.

Our 20-week appointment was the week before Thanksgiving, and there was a huge windstorm. We took Lucas with us.

The ultrasound tech did a couple things and started acting flustered; she didn’t come out saying if it was a boy or girl, which was fine because we didn’t want to find out the gender. The doctor came in and said things weren’t looking right, red flags had popped up. She threw a bunch of possibilities at us, told us we needed to see a specialist. I started bawling.

Ryan was supposed to be leaving for a Young Life retreat, and I was supposed to join him later, but I wanted to isolate myself. He talked me off the ledge. People at the retreat prayed over us. It’s crazy when you’re experiencing pregnancy issues, how many people come out of the woodwork and share similar stories.

The next week we met with a genetic counselor who ordered series of tests. We got our results back after Thanksgiving and everything came back negative. We were ecstatic, and thought that if it was something like learning disabilities, it would be OK; we could handle it.

After two great months of scans, I went for an ultrasound in February. The doctor said there was fluid in the baby’s lungs, and that the point had come where the baby would be better on the outside than on the inside. That brought up the issue of me wondering, Why can’t my body take care of my baby?

The doctor said we needed to do a C-section. I had wanted a natural, vaginal childbirth, but I also wanted what was best for my child.

They brought Ryan in right as they were doing the swipe across my stomach. A team of doctors swooped in to take care of the baby, and another team came to take care of me. Watching those doctors work on my baby – they were so amazing with what they did. The anesthesiologist held my hand the whole time after Ryan left to be with Brody.

Ryan got to announce that it was a boy. Beforehand, we had picked out a couple names.

We decided to name him Brody, which means “out of the ditch,” “out of muddy water.”

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After Brody died, when we were driving home from the hospital, Ryan and I talked about how we were not going to get a divorce. We were fully aware of the statistics of how some couples who lose a child struggle in their marriage.

The week leading up to Brody’s service, we didn’t have family in town, so we had to make all the funeral decisions on our own. That helped, though, keep Ryan and Lucas and I really tight together.

We buried him in the same place as my brother. I love the idea of Brody being close to John.

I didn’t go to church for a while. It’s not that I didn’t believe in God; I just didn’t want to be around people or large crowds. They would look at me with sympathetic eyes, scared to say something to me, scared to say his name. But there was one woman – someone who had gone through several miscarriages – she’d ask me all the time, “How you doing, Brody’s mama?”

Right after he died, a ton of people poured out their love on us – bringing us food and flowers and gifts. One set of friends chipped in funds to send us on a trip over the summer. Another friend got Lucas a bike trailer so he could ride with us. We were absolutely blown away by people’s generosity.

When people ask me now how to help someone who lost a baby, I tell them, “Just do something.” We know how much it meant to be on the receiving end. And when people didn’t do something, or seemed afraid to say something, it was really lonely.

I wouldn’t say that anytime, through any of this, we questioned our faith. We know through thick and thin, we may not like what God allows, but that He does love us, and is there with us. We didn’t have a crisis of faith, though there were times we were questioning God a lot about what had happened.

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It took us awhile to go back and do more genetic testing. We found out Brody had Noonan syndrome, a genetic disorder that prevents normal development in certain areas of the body. Noonan syndrome is a spectrum – some people can live a full and happy and healthy life, perhaps facing some learning disabilities. Brody was on the other end of the spectrum. He also had fetal hydrops, and those two things together put Brody in a spot that made him not compatible with life.

The five days he was with us, Brody taught us so much: the need to fight, to not give up, that life is short. We don’t know when our last day will be, so we’re not going to do things we don’t want to do.

I have been a high school teacher since 2003 and have enjoyed (almost) every minute of teaching, but we made the decision for me to stop working and stay at home. My heart wasn’t in it like it used to be, and I wanted to be home with Lucas and supporting Ryan. I now share essential oils with people and am able to work from home.

Two words that we have clung to – described in the intro of a devotional called “The One Year Book of Hope” – are manna and grace. Just like when the Israelites were wandering in the desert, and needed their manna, we also need our manna to survive, getting into the Word somehow every day. And grace – we need to show people (and ourselves) grace. Some days are harder than others to do that.

{Ryan}
One day we were pretty upset with each other, and then realized it was the month anniversary of Brody’s due date. When we recognized that, we were much more understanding of why we had bad attitudes.

Every day we have to be mindful of why we might be angry, and to be honest with our emotions. It’s helpful to know the times I am upset because we lost a child, not because someone didn’t pick their shoes up. It keeps me in check to show grace to my wife and son.

{Jessi}
Our immediate family has gotten so much closer through all of this. I am so thankful for Ryan and Lucas.

We have pictures of Brody around the house, and an ultrasound picture of him in Lucas’s bedroom – Luc was insistent we put it there. When we told Lucas that Brody is in heaven with Jesus, it was funny; he’d point up to the sky and say “Brody with Kevin” (not sure if he was meaning “heaven” or a character from “Despicable Me”).

There’ve been times when I’m reading him books before bed, and he’ll look at me and ask, “Momma sad?” and I’ll tell him, “Yea, momma misses Brody.” He’ll run and get a scrap of toilet paper to dab my eyes. Then, he will ask, “Happy now?”

I’m learning to find that balance, letting him in on my grief.

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There’s a place in the hospital called the angel room. It’s where you go after your baby dies, so your family can come say goodbye. You can be there as long as you want with your child.

The Forget Me Not people earlier had recorded the sound of Brody’s heartbeat and put the recording in a Build-A-Bear type stuffed animal. I picked a monkey. It was neat for Lucas – he called it his Brody Monkey.

Lucas Brody monkey Boschma family infant loss remembrance

I was worried about bringing Lucas into the angel room, worried about his little spirit. We decided if he started to freak out, Ryan would take him and leave.

Right away Luc asked to hold Brody. He tried to drive one of his little cars over Brody’s face. The Forget Me Not people took lots of picture, cut a lock of his hair, did footprints – those in-the-moment activities that were the farthest thing from my mind.

It was so hard to call the chaplain. It was late in the evening when we finally did. We gave up Brody to this sweet, gentle old man. I have that memory so clearly – I can see him, holding Brody, standing in the angel room as we walked away.

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I want to remember Brody. I want his life to help other people. He taught us SO MUCH about what it means to have true grit.

We want people to hear about Jesus as we tell Brody’s story – because without Jesus, I honestly do not know how we would be facing each day. We had prayed for a miracle – that Brody’s life would be spared – but the true miracle is that we were given five days with our sweet boy.

Years ago, I started the John Eagon Scholar-Athlete Award as a way to honor and remember my brother’s life. I run in marathons and half marathons and raise support for the scholarship. All the money is managed through a local Community Foundation and is therefore tax-exempt. A few weeks ago I ran in the Hayden Lake Half Marathon in honor of John and Brody. It was therapeutic doing something physical to remember Brody. And it brings comfort thinking of Brody in heaven with his uncle.

If you feel led to donate, please visit https://bmcf.fcsuite.com/erp/donate/create?funit_id=1136.

Jessi invites anyone who would like to talk through their losses or ask questions about Brody’s story to contact her at jessiboschma@gmail.com.

Biblical smack talk with @JillianMichaels

It’s the type of thing you’d expect to snag at a church ladies’ swap – I mean, besides those near-threadbare yoga pants that you can totally still get some use out of and a coupla vintage glass jars that are just begging to be repurposed in some darling yet probably doomed Pinterest project.

The awesome find I scored at a recent moms’ group exchange was a Jillian Michaels kickboxing DVD. In it, the celebrity trainer blasts through three 20-minute cardio workouts while barking belligerent threats intended to scare the fat off of you.

More than helping me sculpt a mombod physique, this DVD has provided ongoing entertainment value watching my kids mimic the moves of Jillian’s fiercely fit crew, whom they identify by the color of each woman’s sports bra – “I’m following the orange girl!” – and hearing them repeat her violent phrases in situations outside of an exercise context – “Let’s break some ribs! Push this guy through the wall! Take his jaw off! Smack him down! Take him out!”

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Amidst all her hollerin’ to work harder, dig deeper, and thrust your hip out farther, Jillian issues a blunt proclamation that stirred spiritual implications in my mind: “You’re gonna get out of this what you put into it.”

What my girl Jillian is talking about here isn’t the length of time you spend working out; it’s the amount of effort you exert working out. Over and over again throughout the DVD, she reminds you that you’re only training for 20 minutes, so you better make it count and jab, chop, and whack as vigorously as you can.

Pep talks like this from the fitness/athletic field can be applied several different ways in a Christian living conversation: press on in the faith, run the race set before you, and so forth. What struck me about this particular motivational invective was the principle of return on investment and how that relates to our approach to the Bible.

Just as in cardio kickboxing, the level of examination and meditation I pour into God’s Word directly affects the amount of wisdom and edification I reap from God’s Word. Stated another way, per Jillian Michaels: You wanna play? You gotta pay.

This is logical from both a physically fit and fiscally sound perspective. Exerting little effort to study Scripture is likely to yield minimal results (learning/growth), while investing greater effort is more apt to yield better results (more comprehensive understanding of who God is and how we can be like Him).

Certainly, there are circumstances and seasons of life that can make it difficult if not impossible to engage in intense study (hello, newborn parenthood). But I think we sell ourselves short when we automatically assume we haven’t got the time or mental capacity to go deeper, and instead, settle for completely acceptable yet not terribly substantial contact with the Bible – like, say, spending a few minutes a day scrolling through elegantly scripted verse memes on Instagram.

Consider this admonition from Jen Wilkin in “Women of the Word”:

Learning what the Bible says and subsequently working to interpret and apply it requires quite a different practice than many of those we commonly associate with ‘spending time in the Word.’ We cannot afford to assume that our good intentions are enough.

I can just hear my grace-extolling crusader comrades now: “Alert! Alert! Legalism detected! Someone call for Philip Yancey while we lock her up in a room plastered with pages from the epistles!”

Friends, I’m not trying to be legalistic here. Of course we must be wary of implying some religious formula, as if x number of hours spent studying Scripture = x number of stars on our holiness charts. This has nothing to do with the basis of our salvation, or our position in Christ, or the ability of the Spirit to move in our lives through means besides direct engagement with the Bible.

Please hear me out in a spirit of love and mutual conviction when I say that pursuing knowledge of our Lord and Saviour should be our utmost of #lifegoals. To love God is to know God, and to know God is to study God.

knowledge Lord #lifegoals

Thankfully, there are many good resources available to help us accomplish that: the previously mentioned “Women of the Word,” Kay Arthur’s “How To Study Your Bible,” and some great apps including IF: Equip, She Reads Truth, and First 5.

Psalms 119:2 says “Blessed are those who keep his statutes and seek Him with all their heart” (NIV), or rephrased “Joyful are those who obey His laws and search for Him with all their hearts” (NLT).

I pose this question to myself, and to you: Are we dripping sweat to seek Jesus? Like, at all? Isn’t He worth the effort – any amount we can make?

I urge you, in my best Jillian butt-whupping voice, to sweat with me and dig deeper in God’s Word for the sake of knowing Him more.

joyful obey God's laws search with hearts Psalm 119 2

Dreams beyond expectation

As much as it lives up to its celebrated reputation as The Happiest Place on Earth, Disneyland also successfully fulfills its potential as Destination Meltdown.

This makes sense. Combine parents, who are eager to wring every last drop of magic out of an overhyped theme park for which they paid a fortunate so their family could make memories, dammit – with young children, who are volatile by nature and notorious for their oppositional behavior – with surly teens who kinda enjoy the rides but must appear unimpressed to stay true to their kind – with grown adults who are Peter Pan-ing it through life and don’t even really like kids but will put up with being around them for a day to satisfy their own childhood fixations – along with long lines, godforsaken heat, and irritability brought on by hanger pains – and whaddya expect? A Shutterfly book full of perfectly composed pics showing you and your family members riding unicorns blowing sunshine out of their Mickey ears?

Setting realistic expectations about major life events can be a good thing. Knowing this, I factored in a healthy dose of skepticism when planning our family’s trip to Disneyland this past June. It was our boys’ first visit there, and while we figured they’d enjoy it, we also recognized how overstimulating and thus tantrum-inspiring the Disney experience can be for little bodies.

This assumption played out along the streets of Tomorrowland and beyond. During our journey through the parks, at any given time of day, children could be spotted crying, whining, whimpering, shrieking, stomping, flailing, pouting, protesting, staging a stroller sit-in, pulling a last-minute bailout on a ride, wailing in despair over melted Frozen popsicles, freaking out because they didn’t get to meet Goofy or freaking out because they DID get to meet Goofy and he scared the crumbling goldfish out of them.

What astonished me and my husband about all this was that, for the most part, these were not OUR kids exhibiting the highly annoying yet very normal behavior one would expect from children who are pushed to the brink of exhaustion. Sure, we heard our fair share of grumbling, and we all got on one another’s nerves, as is custom on family vacations. But by and large, our boys handled the stress, excitement, and physical demands of touring the Disney parks – not to mention a couple of mishaps (flat tire, pink eye, ride-induced head injury, vomiting attack on the car ride home) – with greater patience and poise than we anticipated. This pleasant surprise made for an enjoyable, far-from-relaxing-but-nonetheless-entertaining family trip that was well worth it, despite the hellish triple-digit temps.

My point in sharing about our exceeded vacation expectations isn’t to brag about my kids being perfect (hardly) or to incite vacay envy (that’s what Queen Bey’s Instagram feed is for). For some reason, this is the recent life event God brought to mind as I was studying a passage in Philippians, which seems unrelated to the specific subject of preparing for a trip to Disneyland, but speaks to the general topic of how we can hope fiercely and pray boldly in the face of uncertainty.

Paul, the author of Philippians, begins winding down his message in chapter 4 by explaining how he has learned to be content in the most incongruous of circumstances – BOTH when living the high life AND when living in times of desperate need. He thanks the Philippians for their generosity, which helped lift him from impoverishment on more than one occasion, and then in verse 19 throws out this provocative declaration:

“And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus.”

Whoa. Can you feel the weight of that statement? Gotta love ballsy Paul.

I could spend plenty of time analyzing the Greek etymology for “will meet” (plēroō, meaning to fill to the full, cause to abound, furnish or supply liberally), and dive headlong into the foggy semantics of distinguishing between a want vs. a need in this specific usage. But while studying this verse using the IF:Gathering app, my attention was drawn to the latter part: “the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus.”

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never really thought of God as rich. It’s just not where my head goes. Maybe that’s because viewing the Lord Almighty as Rich Uncle Pennybags seems a little – I don’t know – irreverent.

Yet there it is, capping off a massively audacious claim. The Greek word for these “riches” is ploutos, meaning (literally) wealth and abundance of external possessions, or (figuratively) a good with which one is enriched. Interestingly, about half of its 22 occurrences in the NASB Greek concordance are used to define characteristics of God and/or Christ – riches of: His kindness, forbearance, and patience (Romans 2:4), His wisdom and knowledge (Romans 11:33), His glorious inheritance (Ephesians 1:18), His grace (Ephesians 2:7).

Having a wealthy Father pledge to overfill us from the overflow of His bountiful goodness is incredible, unfathomable. And it gets better. In his book, “God Promises You,” Charles Spurgeon describes how God quite effortlessly surpasses our expectations, doing “exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or even think” (Ephesians 3:20).

“None ever promised as God has done. Kings have promised even to the half of their kingdoms. But what of that? God promised to give His own Son, and even His own Self, to His people, and He did it. Princes draw a line somewhere, but the Lord sets no bounds to the gifts which He ordains for his chosen.”

You’d think this plentitude of promises would bolster our confidence in approaching our Creator. And yet, all too often, we lowball it with the Lord. Like I did prepping for our Disney vacation, we intentionally lower our expectations to curtail our disappointment. We deem personal concerns insignificant, recurring sins insurmountable, societal injustices unsolvable. We feel unworthy and keep ourselves wary. As a result, our prayers wind up weak, meager, distrustful.

Why do we so severely underestimate our Savior? Well, for one thing, we’re human. We have a hard time wrapping our heads around His limitlessness. Beyond that, I think we set the bar low when bringing our requests before Him because we’re afraid He’ll say no. No, you will not get that job. No, you will not get pregnant. No, your loved one will not be healed. No, you will not discover the reason(s) for your present sufferings.

Our Lord reserves the right to say “no,” and even when we believe that He works all things for our good, the potential refusal terrifies us. As C.S. Lewis points out:

“We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.”

But here’s your good news for the day: God is not like a coupla young boys embarking on their first trip to Disneyland. He is good. He is trustworthy. He is rich – rich in mercy, rich in love, rich in faithfulness – even when we come stumbling before His throne muttering pathetic prayers presented with a glass-near-empty attitude.

To help build our faith and expand our expectations, we can do some practical things as Paul suggests earlier in Philippians 4: be thankful, meditate on what is true and wholesome, rejoice…in the Lord…always. Present your requests boldly to God with the assurance that He is so loaded with kindness, mercy, and power that He will grant you the peace and strength needed to handle whatever answer He gives – “yes,” “not now,” even the “no.”

I’m preaching to myself hardcore on this one. As a cynical person married to even cynical-er husband, I hesitate to pray big prayers – in theory, because I’m being realistic, but in reality, because I’m scared to risk getting hurt. I don’t doubt that He cares; I doubt that He cares as much as I do – as if my heart is larger than His.

Knowing the truth of God’s abundant grace, I urge my fellow doubters to ditch the pessimism and get your hopes up because of Whom your hope is in. He might not give you exactly what you want, when you want it, how you want it delivered, but He will give you all you need, and much more besides. He will give you His love – already poured out to you through His Son on the cross – today, tomorrow, and continually, with power through His Spirit in your inner being (Ephesians 3:16).

Prepare for the best, expect to be amazed, and enjoy the ride.

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