The Best Laid Plans

extra boots in snowOh man, do I LOVE to dream about the future! I drive my very-down-to-earth husband crazy, in fact, with all of the dreaming I do. Sometimes I sit and explore possibilities of what could be, just for the fun of it! Think of all the things we could do with our lives! We could move across the country! Build a tiny house! Start a hobby farm! Buy an RV! Start a business! Run a bed and breakfast! Complete a renovation! I am full of ideas, and I love to talk about them. I’m always mentally choosing paint colors and learning new skills and exploring the endless possible future within my head (or occasionally out loud). My husband has mostly learned to ignore my rambling when I start dreaming, because he knows that most of my dreams are just ideas, and not necessarily things I want or need to make happen in reality. Sometimes, though, I take my dreaming a step further and start to develop plans. Not only would it be fun and exciting to make something happen, I’m actually going to make it happen! Whether it’s getting out of debt, moving into a different home, choosing an educational curriculum for my children, changing my diet, or going on vacation, I lay my plans carefully and then work hard to make my dreams come true!

When all goes according to plan, I can’t help but enjoy the fruits of my labor! An endeavor that meets financial success, an effort that meets worldly acclaim, these things make me feel great! They are the reward for all of my hard work! Nothing better than creating a goal, working hard to complete it, and then reaping the rewards of the completed goal!

Except, after a few successes, it can be tempting to rely on them. Suddenly, success feels like a guarantee. If I just make careful plans and work hard to achieve them, I will achieve success, just like I did yesterday. And I will deserve that success because I will have worked hard to achieve it. Right?

Emboldened by my past success stories, I start to view my earthly future success as guaranteed and secure. But that’s not how the world works, is it? God says in James 4:13-14

“Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money. Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”

Oof. I’m a mist. Kind of puts me back in my place, doesn’t it? Good metaphor, God.

I can think of plenty of times in my life that God reminded me of my “mist” status. In 2009, we had moved from a small city back to a big one with big plans. My husband and I were both going to get GREAT jobs! We were going to work hard at those jobs and move up the ladder, get out of debt, put away a fair amount of money, and then think about having kids. Ha! Turns out God had other plans for us. Two days after moving into our new home, we found out we were pregnant with our first child. The night before we found out we were expecting, we had been sitting in a bar with a friend chatting about how we didn’t plan to have kids for a long while, and now here we were, pregnant. Our plans derailed, I started searching for more mom-friendly jobs than the ones I had been previously considering. My husband was able to land a job in his field but it didn’t pay much. We were struggling financially and living on ramen and falling deeper into debt. Nothing about our lives that year was written in our carefully laid plans. But God’s Love saw us through, and today we can’t imagine life without our firstborn daughter…or her three younger siblings.

Jeremiah 29:11 “11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Tonight we again found ourselves discussing plans as we went over our bank account and household budget. “I have this much coming in this week,” I said, “and you have this much. So I think we should pay off this and then buy that and then we can fix this and work toward that.” Greed and self satisfaction clouded our otherwise innocent enough conversation. It felt so good to have a little bit of extra money coming in this week, that we immediately began scheming, with no pause to thank God or ask Him to bless our endeavors. All we could see was dollar signs.

It’s not that God wants us to stop making plans and to quit budgeting our money. He just wants our hearts to be in the right place when we do so. James 4:15-16 goes on to say:

“Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil.”

When we grow arrogant in the assurance of our own earthly success, we lose sight of the One who has blessed us with all of our past achievements. We don’t achieve any success because we deserve it. In fact, earthly success is not something God ever promised to us as Christians! In fact, He tells us that we will experience the consequences of sin on this earth. That is the only earthly guarantee God gives us:

"For the wages of sin is death…" (Romans 6:23a)

But he doesn’t just stop there.

"For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 6:23)

God walks with us throughout our lives, through our wonderful successes and our horrible failures. Our entire lives, with the high points and the low frustrations, are a beautiful gift from God, because they all lead up to His Ultimate Gift: the gift of Eternal Life through Jesus! How shallow and petty of us to get excited over earthly money, to obsess over arrogant earthly plans which may or may not ever come to fruition, when we have a heavenly kingdom awaiting us that we did absolutely nothing to deserve!

Let’s go to God in prayer with all of our decisions, lay our plans at his feet, and ask him to bless us. Let us thank and praise him through the high points, and sing his praises still as we cling to Him through the low. Let us be brave enough to ask God to mold and refine us through our futures. May our end goal always be closer communion with Him, and not the meaningless short lived thrills that come through worldly success.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

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He knew all along

i know the plans hhh In a handful of days, my husband and I will celebrate ten years of moments together since we walked up that church aisle as man and wife. Our marriage hasn't been all wide smiles and and pink peonies and bliss, but it certainly has been blessed. He is my match and living life with him makes me a very happy girl.

I look at this photo and grin back at the blushing, beaming, nerves-a-mile-high bride who was a breath away from saying “I do” and stepping into a life with her groom.

What I love most about this photo is the passage on the classroom bulletin board behind me.

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." ~Jeremiah 29:11 

I didn't notice the verse on the wall until months later when I saw it in this picture. It's like a little God-wink. That fresh-out-of-college bride had no clue what the future would hold. But her God knew.

God knew every failure, every fall, every heartbreak. And He forgave and carried us.

He knew that we would struggle to have a baby. And He used that time for His glory.

He knew we would grow our family through adoption. And He brought us together with our Josiah.

He knew that Josh would leave his work as a carpenter behind and become a pastor. And He planted us in Michigan to serve our church and community and raise our family.

None of this came as a surprise to Him. He knew all along. 

When the unexpected came and threw us headfirst into the unknown, our edges certainly would've frayed if our Savior had not been woven with us. When we unravel in our brokenness, He pulls and wraps us tight and we draw in close.

Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. ~Ecclesiastes 4:12

It sometimes feels as though our wedding day was a lifetime and forever ago - much has happened in the decade since then. There has been great joy and loss and hurt and love. There have been arguments and forgiveness, moves and new experiences, plans and parenthood.

Just like the bride in the photo, we still do not know what will come our way in this lifetime. What do we know? That we're safe in our Father's hands. We are weak, but He is strong. We know His plans are better than ours. We can trust Him. Because the One who knows and controls and provides is the One who holds us. We are in this together. We are to give thanks for today and celebrate the beauty our Creator has filled up our life with. We can embrace the unexpected even when it's scary and hard. We must pray that in both hurt and in joy, we will remember God is always good.

And we cling to the Hope that we have. And the perfection that awaits us because of Him - the most beautiful plan of all.

 

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When Plans Take a Detour

Have you ever made big plans? Plans for a vacation? a renovation? your career? your family? your life goals? This is what my kitchen looks like right now.

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We've been planning our kitchen since before we even moved into our house. Two years and about four different plan ideas later, we have finally embarked on a crazy renovation of the entire center of our home involving raising the ceiling two feet, adding sky lights, and essentially moving our kitchen over to a new location. Oh yeah, we have two kids too-- a 6 month old and a 2 1/2 year old. I mentioned we were crazy, right? We thought with a good plan we could get it done easily enough. Being that this is our third remodel, my husband and I figured we had a good idea of what would need to happen. My husband made very detailed plans about what was to happen almost down to the day. Demolition for these two days. Framing everything the next week. You get the idea. We had big plans. Detailed plans. Seemingly perfect plans with even a little wiggle room for the things that inevitably come up whilst renovating.

The first week went really well. I had plans to stay at my parents while my husband and his dad tore apart our existing kitchen. There was excitement and energy in the air. We were smiling. Three weeks later, the smiles are starting to fade. Tension is mounting. There may or may not be a snarky comment under my breath to my husband while he frantically tries to get the floor placed while the babies are crying.

Things are not going according to the plans nearly as perfectly as we thought they would.

The drywall isn't going to be finished the week we planned for it. Okay, we will work around it. The drywall won't be finished the second week we planned for it. Okay, we'll work around it. The plumber has a vacation coming up. The floor took longer to place. The countertop took longer to order then we anticipated. I think you get the picture.

Isn't life like that sometimes (although usually much more serious than a kitchen renovation)? Don't we often think we have it all figured out? That we have the perfect plan.  And then life becomes difficult... You don't get your dream job. Your husband loses his job. You lose a very dear loved one. You can't make ends meet. You want a family, but don't have one. Your health is deteriorating.

Sometimes we forget God in all of our haste to perfectly plan. We think we can do it all on our own, but we can't. However, God knows what is best for us, and it just so happens he is a fabulous planner. After all, he planned and executed creating the entirety of the universe in just 7 days, right? (Talk about a crazy remodel!)

Jeremiah 29:11, "For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

God has it all figured out. He has plans perfect for our lives. While this doesn't necessarily guarantee happy trails ahead, it does give us the guarantee that if our lives take a little detour, or even go the complete opposite direction of what we had planned, that our Heavenly Father is by our side throughout our journey. He will lead us through life and to our eventual home in heaven.

I leave you with the lyrics to a well known hymn to hopefully provide comfort for those of you who are currently in need of a little hope and direction.

 

Christian Worship #422:

Jesus, lead us on Till our rest is won; And although the way be cheerless, We will follow, calm and fearless. Guide us by your hand To our fatherland.

 

If the way be drear, If the foe be near, Let not faithless fears o'er take us; Let not faith and hope forsake us, For through many a woe To our home we go.

 

When we seek relief From a long felt grief, When temptations come alluring, Make us patient and enduring; Show us that bright shore Where we weep no more.

 

Jesus, still lead on Till our rest is won. Heavenly Leader, still direct us; Still support, console, protect us Till we safely stand In our fatherland.

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Fighting Battles From Our Knees

Some trust in chariots and some in horses,but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. They are brought to their knees and fall, but we rise up and stand firm. - Psalm 20:7-8

I don’t think many of us typically think of our lives as battlefields. But, the truth is, every aspect of our lives is deeply rooted in the spiritual battle for our souls and the souls of the people around us. Satan does a great job of covering that up and keeping us focused on the day-to-day things that fill our lives: school, marriage, parenting, work, financial concerns, family matters, and the like.

So, when areas of our lives start to have troubles or we go through rocky waters, it’s easy for us to begin to plan and strategize a solution. Which, if you look at it from a worldly perspective, is exactly what you SHOULD do. However, I want to remind you of what I said at the beginning: Satan wants us to view our lives apart from the spiritual realm. We start to believe that although God is big enough to work out the eternal salvation of our souls, he really isn’t too concerned about the “smaller” areas of our life. These are things WE need to fix on our own.

I fear that as Christians, we spend far too much of our lives strategizing and solving problems with our own power (which is truly no power at all). We too quickly rely on our own wisdom and ideas to get the job done, then wonder why we never see God working in supernatural, awesome ways. For example, when my husband and I started working with our church’s youth group years ago, we planned a fantastic year of events and engaging Bible studies. Yet, week after week, with all our advertising and effort, all we could show for it was 2-3 teens showing up.

Then we changed our focus.

We started praying.

We realized that God had to be the one to bring about revival in our youth. We started by praying for 10 teens to come to Bible study one week. And, would you believe it, 10 teens (exactly) showed up that week! So we started getting more bold and started to pray for 15 and 20 until we were praying for 25 teens and God was bringing that number each week! What a humbling experience and what a faith building lesson to see God’s power over our own.

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I’d like to say that we’ve learned our lesson and in the years since we've always turned to God rather than ourselves, but I’d be lying.

Handing our life over to God is hard... really hard.

You see we find ourselves in a situation like this again. Our foster daughter’s case is one month away from the big termination of rights trial. (Basically, it decides whether we'll be able to adopt her or if she will go back with a biological parent.) It feels like everything is fighting against her staying in our home right now. The case appears to be lining up in favor of her parent and everything in me wants to shout, to fight, and to show the courts how crazy that is. I want to defend ourselves when caseworkers say things about us that are untrue. I want so badly to fix this MYSELF.

But, who do I think I am? Wasn’t it God who moved my husband and I into this crazy foster care world? Wasn’t it God who brought “Autumn” so clearly, so specifically into our home? Why would I stop trusting God now, and start relying on myself to win the battle. He has shown over and over in the Bible and in my own life that he is always reliable, always knows best, and always comes though (James 5:13-18).

Let’s put off our own ideas and our own strength and exchange them for a life of prayer and trusting God to be our solution. I can guarantee that when you start looking to the God of the universe for help you will be blessed to see the supernatural power of God come through for you! And that’s exactly what Satan doesn’t want. The truth is, he can thwart any plan of man; he is way more powerful than us. However, he cannot stand against the authority of God and the power of his Spirit at work in our lives.

Let's keep viewing our lives from a the spiritual perspective. Let's not lose heart and give up, but rather, let's continue to do our fighting on our knees, calling on the God who’s strength and power cannot fail.