Strength and Dignity

On the Other Side of “40”

My 40th birthday lives on as one of the highlights of my life. I’m not way past it yet, but far enough that I know it was one of great significance. It was not a birthday that I dreaded as some do with those decade marking moments of life. This birthday marked me differently, like a mile marker of sorts on my highway of life.

Having just returned from China to adopt our 6th and final child, I was feeling a deep sense of contentment when my 40th birthday rolled around. Until that point in life, it seemed I moved from one anticipated event to another. Now a season of celebration had arrived. It indeed was one of the most joy-filled times of my life. Looking back on the 40 years that had passed, I could clearly see the Author of my life within the script and it all connected. I danced away in celebration of those first 40 years to Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” with 4 of my dearest forever friends in beautiful Cancun, Mexico. Little did I know what would come on the other side of those first 40 years would be some of my most un-fun moments of this life. Also, I didn’t know that all those 40 years that transpired were preparation for the second half of my life story.

Someone recently shared with me that the word quarantine comes from the Latin quadraginta and Italian quaranta, which both mean forty. Personally, this is the 40th official day I’ve been quarantined for the COVID-19 pandemic. As I processed this reality, I felt compelled to dive into some of the moments within the Bible when we see periods of 40 days pass.

Genesis 7:12“and the rain fell on the earth for 40 days and 40 nights.”

So many people have been trying to see the bright side of quarantine. At least we haven’t been sitting inside a floating zoo, although some days can feel like the zoo part, and for some with teenage boys around, it can undoubtedly smell like one. Think about that moment when the rain finally stopped. Most of us are experiencing an increase in the noise level in our homes. It’s like when you have the Governor’s news conference on and your straining to hear when you can actually come out of your house. I can imagine the desperate shushing of Mrs. Noah, straining to hear if there would be another drop of rain to hit the roof of the ark. Had they heard it for so long that the sound of rainfall on the roof just continued to ring in their ears well after it stopped?

Scripture tells us that the waters flooded the earth for 150 days (Gen. 7:24) 150 days people! That’s about 5 months! After that short amount of time, God caused the waters to recede, and then about 2 months more passed before Noah saw the mountaintops. I wonder if he started to sing “Country Road Take Me Home”??? Yet, another 40 days would pass after Noah saw the hope of mountain mamma, and this is what Scripture records: “After 40 days Noah opened a window he had made in the ark and sent out a raven, and it kept flying back and forth until the water had dried up from the earth.” (Gen. 8:6-7)

There would be many more days that would pass before Noah would actually disembark God’s floating zoo. Still, I believe those periods of 40 days were significant for Noah. It might be possible that they were the most trying days of his time spent within his gopher barky estate.

On the other side of the flood came the assurance of a rainbow, representing a faithful God.

Often when the Bible mentions 40 days or 40 years, it is associated with a period of trial or testing. A season of trouble or hardship, that once the time passes something significant results.

Deuteronomy 8:2-5 The Israelites wander in the desert.

“Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you.”

On the other side of the desert came a promised land filled with abundance from a promise-keeping God.

Judges 13:1 Israelites serve the Philistines.

“Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, so the Lord delivered them into the hands of the Philistines for forty years.”

On the other side of being Philistine servants was Samson from a redeeming God.

1 Samuel 17:16 Goliath taunts Saul’s army.

“For forty days the Philistine came every morning and evening and took his stand.”

On the other side of Goliath was a boy named David from a God of all-surpassing strength.

1 Kings 19:7-9 Elijah fled from Jezebel.

“The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, ‘Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.’ So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. There he went into a cave and spent the night.” 

On the other side of fleeing is a providing God of tender mercy.

Then…there’s Jesus. Matthew 4:1-2

“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.”

Most of us familiar with this story know that Jesus had a series of dialogues with the tempter.  These conversations took place while Jesus was under great hardship due to his circumstance of being in a wilderness for 40 days. Isolated, alone, and in a weakened state, Jesus turns to absolute truth, the inspired words of God, not within a book but within Him.

On the other side of the wilderness was a God who calls us to follow.

Then in Acts 1:3, we see yet another significant period of 40 days in the life of Jesus on earth. It was the last 40 days that Jesus spent on the earth. It was 40 days that transpired between His resurrection and ascension into Heaven.

“After His suffering, He presented Himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that He was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.”

What did Jesus spend those last 40 days doing? Jesus was building a future hope within His chosen apostles. I would think the fact that Jesus had to keep “giving convincing proofs” the disciples must have been having a hard time comprehending all that had taken place. They were sitting in an uncertain circumstance, they were unsure. I cannot imagine all they were wrestling within their hearts and minds. They had to be in a new place of faith for sure, but that wasn’t all. Jesus spent 40 days preparing them for another wait. There was a Gift coming to them.

Acts 1:4-5

“On one occasion, while Jesus was eating with them, He gave them this command: ‘Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ “

It would be a 9-day wait before the Holy Spirit would be given. This Gift would be poured out upon a gathering of believers, the Spirit of God breathed into those who trusted, and surrendered to belief in Jesus as the Son of God.

On the other side of Jesus’ appearances was a God who gives us Himself.

My hope is that there will be an “other side” to this period of 40 days for myself. Not so much that I would see a change in me, but that I would have a greater knowledge of who my God is. You see friends, I believe He is showing Himself to us, but we just may not really see it until we arrive on the “other side” of this quarantine. I pray we all can look back and mark Him as something significant to us. What will fill in your blank?

On the other side of the COVID-19 quarantine was a God who___________________________.

The ONE thing that is Certain

(WARNING: The following may not be suitable for young children.)

Easter is one of my favorite times of the year. For me it holds beautiful childhood memories. New dresses and sandals, “sunrise” services, eating hot cinnamon rolls, and celebrating the Reason for my life, the resurrected Christ. However, there is one particular memory that is not of the beautiful ones. This memory is etched in mind because it was of earth-shattering proportions. As a child, I felt deeply, one might say I was dramatic, but that’s all subjective. The magnitude of emotion tied to this specific childhood memory remains tangible, even though many years have passed.

It was a typical Sunday of my childhood, which found me flipping through the comic section of our local newspaper, often referred to as “the funnies.” That was the point friends, this was an activity that should bring with it joy and laughter, but on this day, it would deliver a heart crushing reality that would shatter many hopes and dreams for my future. Within the comic section that bright spring Sunday morn was an ad for the Easter Bunny who would soon be visiting our local mall. Laying outside the open bathroom door, where my mother was getting ready for church, I sprang to my feet, threw the ad in front of her and shouted that I wanted to go see the Easter Bunny. At that moment, my life took a traumatic turn. My brother, who was just several feet away, likely eating his morning Wheaties and starring at Mary Lou Retton on the box, shouted with exasperation from the kitchen, “The Easter Bunny’s not real!”

Outraged by my brother’s ludicrous announcement, the heated banter began. My mother quickly jumped in, imploring my brother to stop. Nonetheless, my brother, in his much older and wiser by 3 whole years insight, insisted that it was time I knew the truth. As if this blow about the Easter Bunny was not enough, he looked me in the eye and matter-of-factly stated that this make-believe world included not only the Easter Bunny but also the Tooth Fairy and Santa. Then he proceeded to explain how these roles had been portrayed all my livelong life by the people I trusted most, my parents.

At that point, I looked to my mother for assurance that my brother’s statements had surely been completely off the rails, but that reassurance did not come. Her face was empathetic, and her voice fell silent. My eyes filled with tears and my heart with rage. I turned for my room, slammed the door, and fell in my pile of Care Bears sobbing my devastated self into them seeking comfort.

My little wrecked heart was certain these figures that had delivered joy into my life on many occasions were most definitely real. As I lay there in my stuffed pile of care, I tried to reason myself through the facts, the proof of what I knew to be true. What about the jingle bells that beckoned me to a present filled porch on Christmas Eve?  What about teeth that had been mysteriously exchanged for dollar bills under my pillow? As much as I tried to reason with myself, I kept seeing my mother’s face and hearing my brother’s words, landing in a place of doubt that stole a slice of my little girl innocence. I told you this was earth-shattering, people. My experiences with the Bunny, Fairy and Clause did not hold any assurance in their validity. My certainty in that one moment had turned to uncertainty.

The definition of CERTAIN according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:

: FIXED, SETTLED a certain percentage of the profit

2: of a specific but unspecified character, quantity, or degree the house has a certain charm

3a: DEPENDABLE, RELIABLE a certain remedy for the disease

b: known or proved to be true: INDISPUTABLE it is certain that we exist

4a: INEVITABLE the certain advance of age

b: incapable of failing: DESTINED —used with a following infinitive she is certain to do well

What is certain these days anyway? What is one thing that can be held as fixed, settled, dependable, reliable, indisputable, inevitable, and destined?

God. God defines certain. He is the One Sure Thing in this life that is filled with uncertainties. Nothing in this life is promised or sure. Yet, we long for certainty because we were made to long for the One who is certain, God. Looking for something certain in uncertain times often causes us to grab hold of things that are temporary and give us a false sense of security. Situations and circumstances arise beyond our control such as pandemics. Then we listen to the news for hope, Google for answers, trust in wisdom from family and friends, doctors and specialists, all of this in an attempt to gain control and certainty of the uncertain. So, what makes God certain?

Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see.” Hebrews 11:1

Faith is the bridge to this assurance and certainty in God. Deep faith that brings peace, stability, and certainty in uncertain times requires surrender. Surrender recognizes weakness in light of undeniable greatness. It’s much like a white flag waved in battle. Before that white flag is lifted, there comes a moment of awareness, recognizing the power and strength on the other side of that white flag is more significant. A level of trust comes with that surrender, believing there will be better results in the end if control is relinquished to another.

Step into the remarkable moments before the cross and the grave. These powerfully demonstrate surrender. Jesus is in the Garden of Gethsemane, praying to His Father.

And He said, “Abba, Father! All things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me. Nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will.” Mark 14:36

Here is Jesus in the direst of circumstances, asking His Daddy (Abba) if there is any other way to accomplish His good plan. Tenderly, Jesus addresses His Father as His Daddy, demonstrating trust. That trust then builds as Jesus surrenders His temporary, and distressing situation to an eternal plan. Jesus had faith in His Daddy. Despite what He was feeling and was about to experience, He trusted that God, His Father had a plan that was good and best. Control relinquished.

What were the better results of this surrender?

God’s good plan included anyone who would claim Him as their One sure thing. This work of surrender placed Jesus on a cross to conquer sin and death, providing the opportunity for others to call on God as their own “Abba, Father.”

“All those led by God’s Spirit are God’s sons. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father!” The Spirit Himself testifies together with our spirit that we are God’s children, and if children, also heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ—seeing that we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.” 

Romans 8:14-17

Now read these same verses in the Message version:

15-17 This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance! We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with him,

then we’re certainly going to go through the good times with him!

This life is not certain. There will be minor disappointments and earth shattering circumstances that will deliver sadness, fear and devastation, but if we raise the white flag of surrender our faith will grow roots and we will see God in the unseen.

My certainty in God is not like my memories of the unseen Bunny, Fairy, or Claus because I have seen God in ways that are undeniable to me. There is not a person who could refute His authenticity to me, because in the moments of my life that have pulled me to my knees and I have chosen surrender I’ve most certainly experienced my “Papa”.

Jesus said, “Because you have seen Me, you have believed. Those who believe without seeing are blessed.”  John 20:29

For further reflection:

  • What might be a situation or circumstance that you need to surrender to the certainty of God?  
  • Is there something that you are looking to for certainty to bring a sense of hope or assurance?
  • Can you look back at a difficult time in your life, where things were uncertain and see how God showed up as your Papa?
  • Are you struggling with certainty in God? Is there someone in your life who seems certain of God that you could talk with about their experience?

Peace in the Pandemic

As a teenager I had a deep affection for boys. Not any particular boy, just boys in general. In fact, in middle school I wrote a song about this deep affection entitled Boys R’ Us. Borrowing the tune from the popular Toys R’ Us ads of that day and adopting my own lyrics, it went a little something like this:

I don’t want to grow up, I’m a Boys R’ Us girl

They’ve got a million boys at Boys R’ Us that I can play with

I don’t want to grow up, I’m a Boys R’ Us girl

They’ve got the cutest boys at Boy’s R’ Us you’ll really flip your lid

From hunks to babes, to guys that shave

It’s the biggest boy store there is (Gee Whiz!)

I don’t want to grow up ‘cuz maybe if I did

I wouldn’t be a Boys R’ Us girl

Did I mention that my affection for boys was deep? Did I also mention it was concerning? Fortunately though I did grow up, found the ultimate “Boy” and married him. My days of cruising the aisles of Boys R’ Us were finally over. I find it completely tragic that I can still recall every lyric to that song, but maybe that will help you understand why my parents had to ground me from boys for an entire summer. That’s right. An entire summer I was banned from boys. My poor parents! I put them in a place of absolute desperation. Knowing if I continued to be a Boys R’ Us Girl there would be significant consequences. So, my parents isolated me from the raging hormones of the teenage boy. My life was surely over at the age of 14. All those dreams imagined while playing M.A.S.H (If you don’t know what that is, ask any middle school girl…it lives on even now) all those dreams had now vanished. At least, that’s how I felt. I believe the goal of that summer was to help my obsession with boys to decrease. Let me tell you people, I barely survived! I admit that I might have broken out of my isolation a time or two, but by summer’s end I was definitely even more obsessed. Again, my poor parents!

Currently, our world is navigating a pandemic. The outbreak of COVID-19 has altered our lives requiring us to live in a state of self-quarantine. The last few weeks have reminded me of that summer of the great boy ban. Feelings of isolation, loss of freedoms and contact with the outside world seem similar. Just as I gained a new appreciation for boys on the other side of that summer, I believe there will also be a deeper sense of appreciation on the other side of this COVID-19 quarantine. The ordinary of our daily life has been set aside, restricted out of necessity. When the time comes that we can live outside of these restrictions what will you appreciate in a whole new way? Maybe it will be those fairly simple, routine things that you never stopped to appreciate before. It’s likely that now, after being restricted; we will all grow in gratitude.

If there’s an area we can all benefit from continued growth, it would be gratitude. In the book of Philippians, Paul exhorts us to not be anxious, but to discuss the situations of life that cause us anxiety with God. One key component to these anxiety-lifting conversations is gratitude.

Philippians 4:4-9

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: RejoiceLet your graciousness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving; let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise—dwell on these things. Do what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

In the passage above, the italicized portions are prescriptive for relieving anxiety and ushering in peace.

  • Be JOYFUL and GRACIOUS
  • Pray with thankfulness
  • Think about what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, morally excellent, or worthy of praise. (Does this describe your current thought filter?)

Maybe this becomes a part of your daily practice as individuals or as a family in the midst of this season of quarantine. A practice added at dinner or bedtime, keeping a list that grows with a heart of gratitude. Asking questions such as:

  • What brought me joy today?
  • How did I extend grace to someone today?
  • What can we give thanks to God for today?
  • What am I thinking about that does not pass through the thought filter of Philippians 4:8? What can I replace that thought with?

I believe what Paul says, that as we practice the ways of gratitude in the midst of this pandemic, we will experience a guard of God’s peace over our hearts. This is my hope and prayer for you friends.