Obedience equals trust

Being obedient to what God calls us to do has almost nothing to do with the act he asks of us. Does he need our actions to do his will? No.

What I think it’s about is trusting God. We trust that in being obedient, he will work through us. We trust that others’ reaction will also be guided by him. Does this mean it all goes smoothly? No. In fact, the Bible is filled with stories of men who were obedient and were killed for it. Our hope is not that God will make nothing but good things happen to us. Our trust is in the fact that God will give us more of him. More of him may look like suffering here on Earth. It will look very different in the next life.

Trust him. If he calls you to do something, it is so you can have more of him. The actual action is such a minor part of it, but that’s what usually receives all of our focus.

Family

I’ve worked so hard over the years to insulate my family from my issues. I don’t want them hurting when I hurt. I don’t want them worried when I’m worried. I think in most situations that’s how it should be with kids. We let them in on some challenges as they are ready to understand, but we don’t heap the world on their shoulders. Let them be kids.

But what about my wife and parents? Maybe family is designed to hurt when I hurt. I want to know instantly when something goes wrong with my family so I can help, but I never want the same in return.

“I’ve got it. I’m fine.” That’s what you’ll hear from most men facing challenges, including myself. Every man’s answer is the buckle down, work harder and white knuckle it until the problem is fixed. Maybe instead we call our family and say “this is not going well.” Sure they hurt, but they get to join in what family was created for. Family is designed to love. In times of struggle, that means surrounding the hurting, doing everything we can to help and hurting with them.

It’s not easy but I’m learning it’s the way family should work. It helps me to suffer well. When I can open up to others and admit I can’t handle it, it makes it easier for me to do the same with God. Admitting we can’t do something in our own power allows family to step in and help. It does the same with God. We can’t do it. We need him.

Everything is a picture of our relationship with Christ. Family is no different.

And I’m thankful for that.

Processing it all

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I’m not exaggerating to say every day for the past seven days have presented mind-blowingly bad challenges. Each has come completely out of nowhere. Each one has the potential to devastate. So how do you handle that? When life is caving in, how can a person receive bad news, after bad news, after bad news and still stand up and say God is good?

It’s a process.

It does not happen instantly. Last week Rebecca would receive a bad call. In those moments it was easier for me to step in and instantly say, “We’re going to be fine, God is good.” And then I would get a bad call, and it was her turn to step in and do the same for me. Never am I instantly at peace with what’s happening. So here’s how I process suffering.

The first thing I do is get mad and lay blame. “Who’s fault is it?” I want that answered and I want to yell at them. This can be damaging because in the absence of a person to truly blame, it shifts to those around me. It’s not fair to them and it shouldn’t happen.

After I get angry, then depression starts to creep in. “Why is this happening to me? This will never change. I feel alone.” This is just as damaging. I can be upset, but depression hurts my family too. They need their husband and father to be strong. And I don’t mean a fake strong. I don’t mean pretending everything is peachy. Acknowledge the storm. Say, “This is what’s wrong and this is how I think God has called me to lead us through it.”

After I get angry and depressed, I will sit in it for a while and stew. Somewhere in there, in the midst of selfish anger, I feel God start to come in and work.

Slowly.

Quietly.

He begins to take my thoughts, which are all centered on my own unhappiness and turn them. He begins to speak so softly.

“I am here.”

“I willed this for your good.”

“I will not leave.”

Through no strength of my own I begin to feel peace and say, “God is good.” Sometimes it happens in minutes. Sometimes, hours. Sometimes, days. I believe suffering is a gift from our beautiful God to make us more hungry and desperate for him. But, given my choice, I would just turn the lights off, lay in bed and let depression and anger swallow my soul. But he doesn’t allow that. He has something better.

God is good.

Fake it until you make it?

I’ve discovered the beauty of following God is that you can’t fake anything. If he asks you to do something, there’s no way to fake it. The “hey look, what’s that over there?” trick doesn’t work on him. And you can do what you feel he’s called you to do, but even that isn’t enough. He’s after the heart. That means he knows exactly what you are thinking and feeling as you do it. That all has to line up as well.

I bring this up because it seems like these days I can’t have one single selfish, sinful, or angry thought without God tapping me on the shoulder and saying, “hey, we need to talk about that.” Which basically means we are talking every minute or so.

I just take comfort in the fact that God gets what he wants, even if he has to drag me kicking and screaming to get there. God doesn’t allow faking it until you make it.

Just my thoughts and I

It’s late Friday night. The kids are in bed and Becca has gone to visit her brother. It’s quiet here. Just my thoughts and I. It has to potential to be a depressing evening. With everything happening, it’s so easy for my thoughts to go dark very quickly. But I feel a great peace and calm right now.

Life falls apart sometimes. Riches and health come and go. But my hope is based on the infinite love and sovereignty of our great King. He is in control and that is comforting.

Daniel answered and said:

“Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might. He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding; he reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with him.”

(Daniel 2:20-22 ESV)

Acknowledging the storm

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There are times when we fall so far, we look up and all we see are the cliff walls on either side stretching so high they blot out the light. Sometimes the storm rages around so fiercely, we cannot even recall what warmth is. The storm threatens to drown out any memory of what it was like to have the sun shine on our faces.

Last night, I sat down and wrote an email to a good friend. I unloaded on him. I wrote out everything that had been going wrong in the last few months. Actually, the last few years haven’t been great. But the last few months specifically (and this last week) have been the hardest we’ve ever faced. If it can go wrong, it has. And now, my brother-in-law being sick has helped us hit what I pray is rock bottom.

I can’t pretend we have it all together. The truth is, we are powerless. I can’t heal. I can’t magically generate money. I can’t make projects happen if they get cancelled. I can’t even console my family that well. So I acknowledge that. I shout at God. I say “I don’t understand this! I don’t like this! I want you to fix this! I need you!” I shout it through bitter tears.

Whatever he chooses to do, though, I will not pretend everything is fine. I will acknowledge the storm. Why? Because this storm is in the hand of the Lord. It is centered over my family for a season because that is exactly where God wants it. I’m not one who believes God is hands-off when it comes to suffering. I believe the Bible teaches that everything is part of his ultimate plan. That includes catastrophic suffering. I do not believe the Devil runs freely and does whatever he wants. The only things the Devil does, are things God allows him to. Even Satan is a pawn in the ultimate plan for our King’s glorification.

So if our present suffering is truly in God’s control and part of his ultimate will, I believe it dishonors him to pretend it isn’t so bad. I acknowledge things are terrible. I acknowledge that I am powerless in all of it. And in that a need is created in me for Christ. A hunger that nothing else will satisfy. My prayer is that we suffer well.

He gives me warmth even when the sun cannot penetrate the storm.

I am in his hands.

Unimportant

One of the beautiful things about suffering is it sifts through the millions of elements of our daily lives and the truly important things float to the top. Everything else falls into a very broad category of unimportant. We received some tough news about my brother-in-law’s health yesterday. It was one of those sifting moments.

So many things that, seconds before the call, were our complete focus, suddenly didn’t matter. As I look at it, I realize the majority of my time is spent on things that ultimately don’t matter. Things like that, when suffering rears it’s head, are made small and insignificant.

I listened to my beautiful wife speak the truth of Christ into someone’s life last night in the midst of the most catastrophic suffering she’s been through. I taught my kids about the beauty of God and how he is good, even in the midst of pain. We prayed, cried and comforted. I confessed my anger and fears to the Lord and tried to leave it at his feet to take care of. At the end of the day, nothing is as important as the love of our sweet God and King.

He has every cell in his hand. He controls them for his glory.

That is important.

Provided for

Everyone prays that God would provide for them. Rarely do we ask if we’ll be happy with what he provides.

We all believe God will provide some big paycheck and allow us to buy food. And our definition of buying food is going to the store to buy a week’s worth of food. The problem is that week’s worth of food is more than some people in the world will see in a month, if not more. So I think our view might be skewed.

What if God providing looks like having you scrounging quarters to go buy a loaf of bread so your kids have sandwiches for lunch?

What if God providing looks like finally cooking that can of beans that has been in your pantry for a year?

Sometimes I wonder if God looks around when we ask for provision and says “I have provided!”

The Bible says God will provide for us. It also says Jesus is enough. So you have to search the couch for pennies or your kids don’t eat. My guess is you are praying while shoving your hands between the cushions. Nothing reveals our need for God more than not having money. What if having 14 cents in your bank account is the blessing of God to make us reliant on him and hungry for his presence? What if this went on for a really long time?

Would you be satisfied with that? Would you feel provided for?

A quiet house

Cody's first day

Cody's first day

Cody's first day

Yesterday marked Cody’s first day of kindergarten. With that big milestone, our house is so quiet during the day. It’s a bit odd but I’m sure I’ll come to enjoy it. Right now, though, it’s a little sad.

Our baby is big now. He marched into class and we found his seat. From there he began coloring, watching his fellow classmates and looking around the room to make sure he was doing what he was supposed to. Little attention was paid to us after that. I stalked about the room, trying to find one more thing to put up or do, watching him the entire time. His teacher gently hinted that they could take care of everything.

“There are tissues and treats for the parents in the library,” his teacher said.

Tissues? I don’t need tissues. We walked through a massive sand storm on the way in. I just have sand in my eyes. And really, what kind of trade is that? I give you one of my treasured sons and you give me tissues? Those better be some really nice tissues.

Becca told me it was time to go before they kicked us out.

“I love you Cody.”

“Ok, Dad,” was all he said.

I know he loves me even if he couldn’t say it right then. I know he was very overwhelmed by the first moments of this new part of his life.

So am I.

The creative dilemma

Today was a frustrating day. I often get clients who need great work. They are promoting something good and I come up with an idea that goes way above and beyond their vision for what can be done. But rarely do they really have the budget to make it work.

The choice usually boils down to presenting the idea with the budget needed, and losing the job, or presenting the idea and doing it at a cut rate. The first means you don’t get the work. The second means you work your tail off for about half what you should get paid.

So what do you do as a creative who refuses to settle for second best? In the past I’ve gone the second route. I’ve bid the jobs way under what I should just to do some exciting work. Sadly only about half the times does that work. The other half, someone comes in with a crappy idea, but a bid that is a fraction of even my “barely making anything” price. So it would seem underbidding only pays off about half the time.

I’m trying more and more to just bid what the job is worth. That can lead to some great work and a great paycheck. Or it can lead to stretches of no work and no paycheck. I’m not sure bidding jobs is ever a part of this job I’ll love or do well. I create ideas and tell stories, and I do it with a passion that is second to none. But the business side makes my head hurt.

One week

What are you doing a week from now? Most people have an idea or plan.

What if instead of what you have planned, you find yourself in a hospital bed, facing chemo for a tumor you didn’t know was in your body?

We never really think about it, but a week can make a huge difference.

God is sovereign over everything. God is good. That’s the rock we have to stand on when one of “those weeks” happens.

The Karate Dog

We have almost 100 years of amazing cinema history available at our fingertips. And my kids are watching The Karate Dog.

“Dad, the dog does karate and talks.”

“Of course he does, Conner. Why wouldn’t the dog do karate and talk?”

And no, the appearance of Mr. Miyagi does not in any way negate the terrible nature of this movie.

The God of everything

As I watched the waves crash around me this week, it was hard to ignore the might of God. Who is more glorious, a God who sets the tides and then just lets the waves randomly crash as they will, or a God who has controlled the direction and timing of every wave that has ever crashed?

The ultimate question in life is not “Who am I?” Not only am I very insignificant in the grand scheme of things but the answer to that question will be different all the time. The ultimate question is “Who is God?” It is the question that, once answered, changes the course of your entire life forever.

Does your view of God change over time? Absolutely it does, but he never changes. As I’ve learned more about who God is and how he works, I’ve fallen even more deeply in love with him than I ever knew was possible. Once you start down the track of truly finding God, it changes everything.

Stand in the ocean some time. See if it doesn’t give you a different view of just how big God is and how small we are.

So who is God to you? Is he the owner of the garden who plants everything and leaves it to grow in whatever direction it wills? Or is he the gardener who lovingly prunes and controls the growth of each limb of every plant to create a beautiful picture of his glory?

Jesus versus sharks

“Dad, are we going to have a Bible story tonight?” Cody asked.

“We are,” I said, “Do you want to learn more about Jesus?”

“Yes,” he answered.

“You know he saves us?” I asked.

“Yeah, he saves us from sharks.”

Parenting through humility

There are times when I am not an ideal parent. This has never been more obvious than in recent clashes with Colton. Being 10, he’s starting to toe the line of being a teenager. He has developed a smart mouth and the need to get his two cents in no matter what it costs him. When this collides with my desire to have an obedient son, sparks fly.

So it seems lately we are constantly at odds with each other. He is mad at me for punishing him and I’m annoyed at him for being…well…10.

What he sees as me being harsh is really just me trying to discipline him and prepare him for his future. What I see as his rebellion is really just him trying to test out his boundaries and defend his idea of what is fair.

Neither of us is completely wrong, but then neither of us is innocent either. One of the hardest lessons I’ve ever had to learn is to go to him and apologize when I’m wrong. I know what I struggle with in life and I want him to be prepared in case he has to face the same things. So I guide him, through love and sometimes discipline to keep him on as right a track as I can. Sometimes, though, the punishment is not in line with the crime. Sometimes the severity is based on how much it disrupted my own selfish desires.

In those times, I have to go to him and confess my sinful nature and ask his forgiveness. Those moments of humility are tough. My role is ultimately to lead him, but leadership doesn’t mean always pretending you are right even when you are clearly wrong.

I could very easily deal out whatever punishment I feel like no matter how it effects him. If I do that, though, he will do the same thing to his sons. And then they will do the same to their sons. Somewhere along the way, a Wright son will be born who does not take this sometimes harsh treatment as part of the learning process. He will rebel against it with every fiber of his being and could lead the line of Wrights following him down a dark path that could take generations to recover from. All because I don’t want to address my laziness and sin by humbling myself in view of Colton. So I correct and discipline out of love. And when I don’t do it entirely out of love, I eventually ask forgiveness. Sometimes it takes me a while, but I get there.

This week I challenged him to help me make things better. He will try to be 25% more obedient and I will try to be 25% more patient and forgiving. Between the two of us we should be able to cut out about half our arguments and our relationship should look very different.

Part of the process of both of us doing those is acknowledging that we can’t. Colton cannot just white knuckle his sinful behavior and change it. Only through God transforming his heart will he truly change. Likewise, I cannot just generate more patience and humility. Only through God’s power in me will any of that happen.

So we walk through life together, a sinful dad and a sinful son, knocking the rough edges off each other as God pulls us both closer to him. It’s not always pretty but it is parenting.