Monthly Archives: February 2018

Getting Schooled in Molasses Swamp

A few years back, a study determined that achieving expert status required 10,000 hours of practice. If this is true, then I am an expert in Candyland. Between the hours spent as a child playing on our rust-colored shag carpet and the hours logged with my three children, I have not only hit the 10,000 hour mark but certainly lapped it.

Being an expert, I am well versed in the intricacies of the game. I’m well acquainted with Queen Frostine and Gramma Nut. I’ve floated on the Ice Cream Sea and longed wistfully to land strategically at the entrance to the Gumdrop Path.

I am also familiar with the Molasses Swamp and the frustration that ensues after drawing the card that sticks you like glue to that darn black dot while your colorful gingerbread friends blaze past you on their way to the coveted Candy Castle. You wait, drawing card after card, hoping for the card that will free you. You wait for permission to advance. You wait to move.

Lately, I have been stuck spiritually. Just like my time spent in Molasses Swamp, I simply cannot move forward. It seems no amount of prayer or petition allows me beyond this spot. And while I’m so desperate to move, longing and ready for the next location, there are lessons to be learned in the swamp. The black dot that holds us back has some wisdom to share if we have ears to hear. After some thought and digging, It occurred to me that there are generally three reasons we find ourselves stuck.

Our Sin

When it comes to being stuck because of sin, the Israelites are the quintessential example. After being divinely freed from the Egyptians, they had God’s promise, protection, and provision, but none of it was enough. In an effort to control their situation and ensure success, they authored the book on unfaithfulness and doubt. When things got difficult, they grumbled about empty stomachs. When things got dicey they blamed their leaders. When things got uncertain they bowed to every god but the One that had saved them. Eventually, God had enough and He threw down the card that would stick them in the dessert for 40 years (Numbers 14:34). Stuck with manna and quail, with sand and heat, with nowhere to call home. All because of sin. All because they wanted what they wanted and weren’t willing to trust.

All too often, we do the same thing. While God may be calling us forward, our disobedience keeps us from advancing. Surrounded by all God’s goodness, we dig in our heels and shake our fists because it’s not enough. Just like the Israelites, we want what we want. We want more when God calls us to contentment. We want revenge when God calls us to peace. We want to fight when God calls us to love. And in our desire, we sin. And in our sin, we get stuck.

Our Fear

I’m not sure when Moses figured it out. An Israelite raised under an Egyptian Pharaoh’s roof, at some point he fully realized who he was and it didn’t take long for him to snap. His anger got the best of him when he saw an Egyptian beating an Israelite and in a moment of rage he killed the Egyptian. Confronted with his actions, he did what most red-blooded humans would do – he ran. He ran fast and he ran far. Terrified of likely execution, he ran 285 miles to Midian and stayed there for 50 years (Exodus 2:15). Moses was stuck. He was paralyzed by fear of the future and halted by doubt that he could ever come back from this.

Fear and doubt are dangerous bed partners and unfortunately, they frequently pair up to freeze us in our tracks. We get trapped in the unknowns and uncertainty. We question our value and wonder if we’re even worthy of moving forward. Fear tells us we aren’t good enough. It whispers lies about our purpose and potential, often convincing us we have neither. And before we know it, we’ve let the voices in. We fret, we doubt, we crumble. We stand helpless as the enemy throws the card that leaves us stuck.

God’s Plan

In Acts 1, after Jesus’s resurrection, the disciples enjoyed 40 days of living and learning with the risen Lord. I imagine just about the time they settled into their new reality, Jesus dropped the bomb that He was leaving – for good. Furthermore, just before He ascended He instructed them not to leave Jerusalem but instead to wait for what the Father had promised (Acts 1:4). As they left Mount Sinai to return to the city, I expect they anticipated a relatively short waiting period. A few hours perhaps. Certainly no more than a couple days. So they waited. And waited. In the end, they waited ten long days, stuck in uncertainty and hopeful expectation.

Being stuck by design is perhaps the hardest of all. We are ready to move and ready to act. We hear the call, lace up our sneakers and strain our ears for the signal that will release us in all our passion and intention. But sometimes the signal takes a while and we are left kneeling at the starting line far longer than we expected. Maybe because we’re not quite as ready as we thought we were. We might need more equipping, more growth.  Or perhaps we are ready but something else isn’t. The timing isn’t right or the people we need on our journey aren’t yet in place. For whatever reason and for as long as it takes, God tells us to wait. And we are stuck.

So we’re stuck. Neck deep in molasses, we just can’t move forward. Now what?

Look Up

The tendency when we’re stuck is to keep our heads down and try and figure a way out of our predicament. The problem is that when we look down, we wind up with more fear. Focused on our predicament, we easily fall prey to panic and worry. As we look down, so goes our heart.

We are also tempted to look around when we’re stuck. But looking around sends us quickly into the trap of comparison. We see others moving when we cannot and the sins of jealousy, judgment and anger creep silently in. Questions and accusations seep in that are neither helpful nor healthy. Our eyes wander and so does our heart.

So where do we look? We look up. We look towards the castle and our King. Fixing our gaze on Him makes it impossible to focus on whatever is keeping us stuck. And when we look, we also listen. Looking up to our Lord makes us more receptive to receiving what He’s speaking to us. When we look up we see who He is rather than where we are.

Lean In

While we’re looking up, we also need to lean in and cling to God’s truths. Rather than focusing on what our “stuckness” seems to say about us, if we seek and soak up God’s promises and provision, we are able to rest even in the mire. When we surround ourselves with the truths emanating from the castle we begin to surrender and we begin to trust.

What truths do you need to hear today? What’s keeping you stuck?

Is it sin? Confess, turn and cling to the timeless promises your Father whispers over you.

“For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, ‘In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.’”  Isaiah 30:15

“Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord…”  Acts 3:19-20

What about fear? Are fear and doubt holding you fast? Take courage in the Lord’s strength and presence.

 “…fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”  Isaiah 41:10

 “…for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”  2 Timothy 1:7

Are you stuck by design? Is God’s plan requiring you to wait just a bit longer? Be patient dear heart and trust that He is working.

“Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!”  Psalms 27:14

“But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”  Romans 8:25

Being stuck is hard. Our sin sinks us, our fear freezes us and divinity delays us. But there is great hope. In His perfect time we will move with swiftness, grace and power. Until then, beloved, look up to your Creator. Lean in to the truth He sings over you. The castle calls and it will be but an instant before we are there!




Settling for Cabinet Pudding

If our house was on fire, once the kids and pets were safe, there are exactly 3 things I would rush into the flames to try and salvage. One of those is my grandmother’s cookbook written in 1943. Not just any old cookbook, it is beyond sentimental for me. The pages are stained and worn from years of being laid open in my grandmother’s kitchen. There are permanent flour clumps embedded on the page with my favorite cookie recipe. There are recipes scrawled on the inside cover and doodles on the title page. Her hands and heart are evident on every page of that book – etched in recipe notes and adjustments, visible in newspaper clippings littered throughout the pages.

A few years ago, however, I discovered another reason to love it. I was perusing the book and came across a page I hadn’t noticed before. Nestled between the introduction and the table of contents, there is a 2-paragraph page titled “Wartime Postscript.”

When I first read this I nearly burst out laughing. It struck me as dated, provincial, and honestly a bit insulting. The idea that a woman’s best contribution to the war effort is through meal planning is more than a little belittling and patronizing in our day and age.

But after a few reads, there is also something endearing about it and today, the day after yet another mass school shooting, I find a truth in the words that I didn’t see before. In between the lines about Cabinet Pudding and yeast-raised orange bread, there is wisdom, awareness and self-sacrifice that is hard to find these days.

The message that seems to come across loud and clear in this little postscript is one of self-sacrifice and a commitment to the greater good. While you might really be longing for Fruit Torte, the larger circumstances of the world won’t allow that. So you adjust. You compromise. You settle. You die to what you really want because there is so much more at stake. It’s not about sirloin versus T-bone. It’s about what’s right. It’s about recognizing that there is more beyond your small corner of the world and acknowledging that life is not about what you want.

Yesterday’s incident in Florida, along with nearly every other gun crime in this country, flies horrifically in the face of this belief. Even more tragically, the gun lobby also rejects this belief with vigor and fervor. Somehow, the NRA has successfully duped the masses into adopting the warped conviction that your need to own any and every gun you choose is far superior to the needs of anyone else.

I simply cannot wrap my brain around this kind of thinking. I beg a rational, reasonable person to explain to me how someone’s right or freedom to own multiple semi-automatic rifles, capable of killing in mass, trumps my children’s right to feel safe in their own school? I just cannot see the justification and, sadly, the defense of that right is becoming deadlier by the day. So far, unless I’m missing something, I haven’t heard a single story about how someone with an AR-15 saved dozens of people in a school or mall on American soil. I haven’t seen emotional parents gushing on television about how grateful they are that a gunman, armed to the teeth with countless rounds of ammunition, rushed in and saved their child. Instead, our news is rife with broken parents, spouses and children who have witnessed from the front row the casualties of this ridiculous and unchecked “freedom”.

In Mark 12, Jesus is asked the question “Which commandment is the most important of all?”. His response, while well-known and oft repeated, never loses its impact.

“ ’And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’. There is no other commandment greater than these.”

 Then in 1 Corinthians 13 Paul tells us the following:

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way…”

“It does not insist on its own way”. I love that phrase and I find it awfully relevant today. If we are to love our neighbor as commanded, we need to put aside what we want, what we feel we are entitled to. We must not insist on our own way but instead look around us and evaluate honestly and thoughtfully what our agenda is costing. Currently, the gun agenda is costing far more than anyone should ever have to give. We are racking up losses by the dozens because we are unwilling to compromise what we believe is our right. Regardless of the cost, we really, really, really want a sirloin steak (or in this case, an unrestricted firearm) and no-one is going to tell us we can’t have one damnit!

In most areas we’ve come a long way since my grandmother’s cookbook was written 75 years ago and our progress has improved our lives exponentially. But there have been some steps backwards along the way and the gun culture in our country is a massive leap in the wrong direction.

I certainly don’t want to go back to 1943. However, when I read the Wartime Postscript it’s clear they were doing some things right back then. They knew how to adjust. They knew how to compromise and even settle for less, if necessary. Somewhere along the way we lost that ability and it is, quite literally, killing us. If we could take a page from their playbook perhaps we could affect real change. If we could love without our own agendas and realize that sometimes loving well means giving up what we want, then we might have a fighting chance. If we can find a way to love our neighbor more than our guns there just may be hope for us.

I am convinced that somewhere down the line future generations will look back in horror at what we’ve done. They will wonder how we could’ve ever let it get so out of hand. How we could justify and excuse the senseless loss of lives under the banner of our “rights”. And I imagine they will grieve that it took so damn long for us to learn the lesson.

Change isn’t a hope, it’s a necessity. We simply can’t move forward without it. We need to lay down our guns, both literally and figuratively and work to figure this out. We have to be willing to adjust and compromise and, in some cases, settle for less than what we want. And just like settling for Cabinet Pudding when you really want Fruit Torte, there needs to be a deliberate and intentional decision to forego your needs for the needs of those around you. When we love our neighbor as ourselves, despite what it may require us to sacrifice, only then will everyone win.