Learning to Embrace Suffering

One year ago, I was driving home from school with Ellie and Caleb giving me the run-down of their day, what homework needed to be done, and what we had going that evening.  It was the normal routine, except I was trying to hurry home to make a birthday dinner for my oldest who woke up a teenager that morning. I turned down our gravel driveway and was almost to the house before I noticed something odd. When I got to the house, I could see that the garage was open.  Weird. My stomach sank, but maybe Bart just forgot to close it earlier?

As I dialed to call Bart, I noticed the door leading from the garage into the house was also standing wide open.  Something was not right here and I began to have the first moments of panic settle over me just as Bart answered. I sat in the car and quickly explained everything to him.  Only then did I glance into the house through the door frame to see an empty space on our wall right where our gun cabinet used to sit. At that moment I was finally able to process the obvious reality that someone unwanted had been inside of our home.  Unsure of whether someone was still in our house or not, especially since the door was standing wide open, Bart implored me to get out of there immediately. The kids started to cry and my brain got foggy.

Within 10 minutes, my Mom arrived to get the kids away from the scene and Bart arrived home to assess the situation.  The police were on the way, but before they got there, we wanted to check things out. How much damage had been done?

Long story short, intruders had made their mark on our home while we were at work that day.  Not only was our ENTIRE gun safe taken, but our master bedroom had been ransacked, and all of our electronics had been jerked out of the walls and gathered up as well- including our TV’s, DVD player, xBox, ipads, chargers, laptop, etc.  As bad as that was, the very worst was the violation we felt at the clear evidence of someone uninvited going through our home and our things while we were at work.

Our kids were now scared, our possessions were missing, Isaac’s birthday dinner was ruined, and we couldn’t even stay the night in our house to wait for fingerprinting the next morning.  It was quite a curveball and a big bummer. A part of me wanted to be so bitter at the situation- at God. If He is sovereign and all powerful like I had believed Him to be, how could He let this happen to us? And here we sat in this season of life, already trying to cut expenditures, as we worked toward paying adoption expenses- trying to walk the narrow road of a calling from God.  Why us? Why now?

Only 5 fast weeks later was the last day of school.  Ellie had been extra tired lately and overall didn’t seem herself.  So Bart took her to the pediatrician. We thought she was sick, but we didn’t expect her doctor to send her straight to the ER with sky high blood sugar levels.  We never anticipated a diagnosis of Type 1 Diabetes, a stay in the pediatric ICU, an ambulance ride to Riley Children’s Hospital, and more nights spent in the hospital.  

Life changed so quickly for our family, for Ellie especially.  We went from being a family who rarely visited the doctor at all to a family with insulin pens in the fridge, pen needles and test strips strewn about the house, and a never ending routine of carb calculations and insulin injections.  We are regulars at the pharmacy now and Ellie will be for the rest of her life: dependent on insulin. A new kind of unwanted normalcy has enveloped her. Thankfully, kids are resilient and Ellie has accepted her lot in life as a diabetic for the last 11 months, but it’s still less than ideal.  Yes, it could be worse, but it is no less a form of daily suffering in this life.

Why do I tell you these 2 stories?  To get your sympathy for our family and make you feel sorry for us?  Hardly. We all have stories like this. They all involve different sets of circumstances and people.  Some are public and some are hidden away. Some smack us in the face unexpectedly and others creep in slowly to change our path in life.  Quite honestly, I tell you this because writing helps me process life. And also because these 2 events last year were effective, controlled fires in my life to refine my knowledge of the character of God.  I hesitate to write about it because it’s a scroll of lessons that I’m still unrolling in my own life. I assume I will be for the rest of my life.

When we come out of the quiet waters of smooth sailing in life and run into a tumultuous sea of inconvenience or suffering, a common knee jerk reaction is to question the character of God.  Am I being punished? Has He forsaken me? Has He forgotten me? Why does it all seem so unfair sometimes? We want the stormy seas to go away as quickly as possible and life to return to its regularly scheduled programming where we are comfortable, healthy, secure, entertained, prosperous, slaying goals, and winning the approval of men all around us.  

When these negative reactions come out of us during life, it is a blessing.  It is a revelation of the ways we have not ingested the Word of God into the fiber of our lives.  It is a revelation of the ways we have made this world our home instead of treating this life like the temporary dwelling place Jesus told us it is.  It is a revelation that we have bought into the lie that poverty, sickness, suffering, and death are the worst things that could happen.

If we call ourselves followers of Christ, then we should have an increasingly transformed outlook on those times of suffering that we are called to walk through in life.  They don’t have to be seasons of “hunker down and survive”. Instead, they can be seasons of expectation, fellowship with Christ, deep growth, and transformation toward glory.  When we lean into these truths, trials don’t have the power to paralyze us in fear, but they bring the hope of refining for what’s to come.

First, we would be wise to grasp hold of the truth that times of suffering will come. Peter tells us, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” (1 Peter 4:12).  But is that the norm for us, as professed believers? Don’t we act surprised, frazzled, panicked when an inconvenience is thrown at us or when we find ourselves walking through a time of trials? Rather than reacting with a spirit of grace and peace, having lived with a right expectation that fiery trials are a necessary part of this life, we often complain and spiral out in fear as if something foreign and strange has interrupted our perfectly orchestrated, comfortable life.

When our house was robbed, gospel truths were available for me to run into to help me remain steadfast and full of peace and joy.  My flesh tugged on my mind to feel panicked, fearful, and angry that someone would trespass on our property and take our possessions that we have worked hard to purchase.  And it would be normal for my worldly flesh to react that way. But as someone in whom the Spirit of God dwells, I was reminded that Jesus warned me not to make my home or those things my treasures.  

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.

Matthew 6:19-20

Taking hold of this truth, knowing that Jesus warned me that thieves might break in and steal our things- even in the path of following Him- helped to steady my thoughts back into a peaceful resolve to continue trusting.  So maybe a robbery is a reminder that those things, and even my home, are not worth treasuring. No matter how well I take care of my home and the things in it, they are all such temporary investments. As we watched the tragic burning of Notre Dame this week, I was reminded yet again of just how temporary the things of this earth truly are.  Maybe Jesus was giving us an object lesson to protect us from investing even more deeply of our time and resources into things that won’t last. Maybe He was using thieves to help us invest into a greater kingdom.

“you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward.  For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.”

Hebrews 10:34-36

Second, we can learn how to lean into them as opportunities for transformation instead of viewing them as fires to sprint through.  What if suffering through refining fires in life is a necessary part of what transforms us into the likeness of His image? Would we still want to stuff it down or dash through it?  Or would we want to receive the inconveniences, curveballs, and fiery trials as opportunities for our very souls to become better reflections of our Creator in this life? If we never suffer, do we ever transform?  

As we look at the cross this Easter weekend, we can see this truth come alive.  When we consider our present or future opportunities to suffer, “let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”  (Hebrews 12:1-2)

Within this example of our Savior, we see that Jesus didn’t deny the reality of the cross.  It was despicable, painful, shame filled, and the most horrific cup to bear. But He showed us the way to endure in this life.  We look to Him and in Him we see how to peer through the portal of suffering into the future grace ahead. Jesus endured for the joy that was before Him- the glory His grace in the salvation of mankind and redemption of humanity.  He knew that the path to the glory was only through the cross- through the suffering. The glory only comes when suffering is endured. Not stuffed and masked under a bandaid. Not sprinted through. Endured: suffering patiently.  And the same is true with us. If we want to experience the transformative power in our humble misty lives, then our path ought to be filled with suffering of many kinds.

“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”

1 Peter 5:10

Finally, when we expectantly receive our times of suffering as opportunities for transformation, I think we can expect that the trial will produce something necessary to a good and beautiful life.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

James 1:2-4

Of course, it’s no fun to walk through times of testing. Jesus pleaded with His Father in heaven to let this cup pass from Him. And the reality is that we are invited to do the same. But the ultimate goal is not necessarily to just get to the other side of the test….its to let the trial make you perfect and complete.  The fiery trial is meant to produce something in you that hasn’t yet existed.

What if, because of the fear of pain, we avoid trials or blindly sprint through them and completely miss the main productive purpose those circumstances have in our life? What if it’s not the person who suffers the least in this life that is truly blessed, but the person who is a submissive student in the schoolhouse of suffering?

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.

James 1:12

And listen to the words of Jesus to the church in Smyrna in Revelation 2:10, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.”

If our compass for truth is only found in the culture around us, we will not learn to endure suffering.  We will NOT find the encouragement we need to remain steadfast under trial. God’s Word is the only source of hope and peace we can truly run into when we are thrown into the tumultuous seas of suffering.  And we must run to that anchor of truth over and over again, helping us to be patient as we wait for the work of God to manifest in our discomfort.

For me, one of the hardest parts of this call to remain steadfast under trial is when the trial involves my children.  I think it is in the nature of most loving parents to do everything in their power to protect their children from hardships and prevent them from going through distress. In my experience and observation, this can look like anything from enrolling our children in a handful of activities in hopes that they will finally find a niche that brings them confidence, to running to rescue and cover up the mistakes of children to save their reputation in the eyes of the community, or even taking them for retail therapy to ease the pain of a hard day.  We, as parents, will go to great lengths to help our children sprint through seasons of adversity or mask their pains with bandaids to distract.

I first began to process these thoughts on my drive to the hospital where Ellie was admitted last year for her diabetes.  As I wrestled with God over the struggles Ellie was facing and had ahead of her, I could hear my negative reactions, the lies I believed about the character of God, rising up inside of me.  They were dross, coming to the surface in this fiery trial. My flesh reaction was a desire to somehow take control of the situation. How could I make this trial less painful for Ellie or how could I get us to the other side more quickly?

As the Spirit of God has done a work on me from the time of that drive over to Evansville, to even this day, with yet another daughter facing even greater medical hardships ahead, my knee jerk reaction has begun to shift.  Rather than feeling such dread and avoidance about the various kinds of trials my children will be called to walk through– medical, friendship, loss, setbacks, disappointments, insecurities, rejection, or any other variety- I can choose to see those as opportunities for transformation that my children might be counted among the blessed in God’s kingdom.

Truly, if WE don’t learn how to suffer well, how will we ever teach our children to do the same?  And if our children don’t learn how to courageously face up to all kinds of suffering and patiently endure it, then how can we ever hope that they will become adults who are “mature and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:4)  Furthermore, if we are always looking for ways to prevent and protect our children from experiencing adversity, won’t we also be blocking the entrance to the portal through which their lives will transform into His glorious image?

Once again, all we need to do is look to the Word of God.  Our Father in heaven is the perfect example of a parent, a good Father in all His ways.  “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”(James 1:17) He is the actual giver of every good and perfect gift that we receive in our lives.  He gave us the gift of our very lives and the gift of our salvation out of His own will.

But He also ordains that we go through suffering, for our good.  He can see the glory on the other side of this life that we can’t yet see.  He wants us to desire that better and lasting kingdom over this one. He wants us to be mature and complete, not lacking in anything that would hold us back from investing our hearts in the better reward. He could have taken the cup of suffering from Jesus and circumvented His Beloved Son’s disgrace and shame. But He didn’t and we praise Him for loving us so lavishly. One day that mystery will be revealed to us when we see Him on His glorious throne and we will not question that our suffering here delivered in the kingdom of His glory.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

Romans 8:18

The Formation of a Heart, part 2

He can look at our disappointments and confusion in our broken life circumstances and He already knows the ultimate good He is going to work together for our good.

Back when Bart and I were dating in college, we had the privilege of working for and forming a relationship with a local, godly family. This family was quite unlike any other family we had ever known. The more we got to know them, the more we enjoyed them and were inspired by the overflowing love, joy, and light heartedness of their large family’s culture. We developed such a respect and a bond with them that by the time we were engaged to be married, we asked the parents of the clan to do our pre-marital counseling- one of the best investments we ever could have made in our marriage. Among many pertinent issues that they probed us to dive into before marriage, one of significant value was to challenge us on our views on methods of family planning.

The more we learned from them and researched ourselves, the more our hearts shifted away from the accepted cultural norms of family planning and expectations. By the time our wedding rolled around, my answer to questions of how many kids we thought we’d have was always, “Lord willing, 4-6”….which was often met with understandable laughter!

As our story goes, with each child born to us, that number changed. Isaac, our honeymoon baby, was born and then we thought maybe 5 was a good number. Then after a miscarriage came Ellie and we said, hopefully 4 children. Finally, on our 6th wedding anniversary Caleb came with all the fireworks of his July 3rd entrance and with full hands we said we were DONE.

Gradually, our hearts shifted away from those early visions and openness of having a “large” family to raise for God’s glory and toward building our careers and investing in the home of our dreams out on the edge of town. Only in reflecting back do I see how we, oh so slowly, slipped into a lapse of calloused, unsurrendered hearts which we all do from time to time.

Oh, to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be
Let that goodness like a fetter
Bind my wandering heart to Thee
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it
Prone to leave the God I love

Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, Robert Robinson, 1757

In ways that only God’s grace can work, He used the trials of 2015- particularly my Grandad’s death and Rachel’s cancer relapse- to jolt us and begin to peel away the layers of worldly callousness that had grown over our once moldable hearts. We began to really think again about what kind of life we were building. Was it one that was founded on the wisdom of the rock solid foundation of God’s kingdom principles or were we investing ourselves too much in the things of this temporal life? I believe it was on the heels of this reflection and repentance that we had an unexpected wave of thoughts come over us.

Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”
And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’
“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’
“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’
“This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

Luke 12:15-21

In light of the “mistiness” of life paraded before us, our appetite to pour our resources into things that won’t last began to dissolve. I didn’t want to spend my life “building bigger barns” and continually redecorating them. We began to see with fresh perspective a desire planted in our hearts to spend our lives investing more deeply in human souls- the only thing that is eternal.

And so that summer, thoughts began to stir in us that maybe we should re-open the conversation about Caleb being our grand finale. To be honest, I selfishly wanted to shut those thoughts down immediately. Afterall, we were done with diapers, naps, tantrums, and strollers. Caleb was 5 and about to start kindergarten. But the thoughts pressed in and with the callouses softening, we finally put our fleece out (Judges 6:36-40) and surrendered our future plans to God.

By God’s grace and the advice from our pre-marital counseling, our previous experiences told us that having more children was only to be a matter of timing. So, with fear and trepidation but also hopeful anticipation, we decided we would put our family size in the hand of God and let the Lord decide if another human soul was to be created. Our “fleece” was also known as a string of fertile days in June and if needed, another in July. I marked those dates on my calendar, sure I would need them for my first doctor’s appointment, and we only told a couple of people about this unexpected detour we were taking. We figured it was now or never!

Much to our confusion, we barrelled into another hot, August school year feeling peace about our surrender to His plans, but wondering what that was all about. School started for our family and with it, the confirmation that I wasn’t pregnant. Admittedly, we were a little bummed. I thought surely we had sensed the nudging of the Lord to open our hearts to more life in the King family, but maybe we were wrong?

As any educator knows, the first few weeks of the school year are super exhausting. I was partly relieved I wasn’t struggling through my usual 1st trimester morning sickness. Needless to say, time moved on and so did the burden to get pregnant. We didn’t have a pretty bow to wrap up that detour- it just kind of hung there, unresolved. It was just this weird sort of surrender we felt He had called us to lean into but never really had clarity beyond that.


Photos from July 2016 :: Our family in South Carolina, Esther’s 100th day in Qingdao SWI

Flash forward 3.5 years to just 2 weeks ago- Esther’s heart cath. As I had said in my previous post, I spent a lot of time and energy meditating on Psalm 139 before, during, and after her procedure. Those Scriptures became so alive to me in a new way as I praised God for the beautiful way He knitted and formed her heart in her mother’s womb. I thanked Him for the way He used something broken, like her single ventricle heart, to lead her to our family. I worshipped Him in light of the knowledge that a little ring, called a pulmonary stenosis, was saving her life and keeping her so healthy. I offered my gratitude that this beautiful toddler calls me Momma and looks to me to meet her needs- what a privilege!

When we got home the next day, as I was journaling and thanking God again for the news that we had received from the cardiologist, I had another weird thought come over me. I began to be curious to know more about the process for how a heart forms in utero and the timeline therein. So I turned my curiosity to google. The nerd in me loves to learn these kinds of things. The Believer in me loves to learn these things in light of the knowledge of the intimate ways God is involved in Creation.

As one who believes that God was sovereign over the design of Esther’s inward parts- particularly her heart in all of its miraculously functioning “abnormalities”- I was especially curious about approximately when her heart started to beat. My heart and my head wanted to know when the unique and beautiful sound of her throbbing heart first broke into this world. It didn’t take long for me to learn that only 21 days after conception, her blood was flowing. Then around 8 weeks, her heart had partitioned into the 3 functioning chambers she has now. It’s truly a miracle!

One weird thing I often do when I learn dates of things or see pictures of things Esther was doing in the orphanage is to go back and look at my old google photos and see what our family was doing on that particular day. It always fascinates me that we lived halfway around the world from her for 2.5 years, unaware of the existence of the other; but the Lord watched both of our lives unfold and brought them together in perfect harmony. When we were first matched and I found out her birthdate, I looked back at past photos. What were we doing that glorious day she was born, you ask? Well, the King Fam was making DubSmash videos of course. This seems so fitting as much as she loves her music!!!

King Family DubSmash Video Fun in Carmi, IL: 4-26-16

The hospital where Esther Bei was born in Qingdao, China: 4-26-16

It goes without saying that as I was following this rabbit trail of investigation over the formation of her heart, I was curious about the dates that her heart would’ve been forming in her mother’s womb…and curious if I could figure out what our lives looked like at that time. So, back to my research. This time I went to a website called “babyMed” and typed in her birthdate, thinking I could easily calculate to figure out the approximate date of 21 days post conception, then 8 weeks, etc.

Esther overlooking the city of her birthplace: Qingdao, China

What I discovered has unveiled an entirely new sense of awestruck wonder about the plans of God. Honestly, I can’t get over it and I don’t want to. When I read the information on the babyMed website, formulated from Esther’s birthdate: April 26, 2016, I suddenly had bells going off in my brain….those dates looked very familiar….but it couldn’t be!!!

Being the weirdo that I am, I still keep a paper and pencil daily planner/calendar for our family life- my Mom gets me a new one for Christmas every year and I love it. Also, being a complete weirdo, I save them ALL. So, it didn’t take 5 seconds for me to hop up, dig out my 2015 planner and find those dates. The last week of July had stars on them- my secret code- our fleece of fertility for another King baby.

Instead of opening my physical womb at the end of July 2015, God opened another woman’s womb all the way across the globe in China. At that time, He began knitting together our Esther Bei. What we didn’t understand was that when he said “no” to us during our surrender, He was planning for us a greater “yes” that we couldn’t have conceived of. He was opening our hearts to raise a baby that would come to us in a beautifully unconventional way- almost 2 years before we said yes to adoption. And just about the same time that baby’s heart was forming in the secret places, we were accepting the disappointing news that I wasn’t pregnant and wondering what that was all about.

“And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Romans 8:27-28

Aren’t His ways just amazing?! He can look at our disappointments and confusion in our broken life circumstances and He already knows the ultimate good He is going to work together for our good. We sag our shoulders or shake our fists at the heavens because we don’t understand the plan. We get angry because we can’t always control the plan and from our perspective nothing good could come; but our God knows what He is orchestrating. His timing is not our timing, but it’s better. No surrender is ever in vain. When we let go of the reins and trust Him with outcomes, even when life doesn’t go like we originally imagined, I think we can trust Him to surprise us with His secret plans. He’s a good, good Father, and He loves to give good gifts to those who trust in Him.

April, 2017: We told the kids about our desire to pursue a path of adoption with a family game night…… meanwhile in China, Esther celebrated her 1st Birthday!

April 2018- Esther celebrated her 2nd Birthday in Qingdao while we celebrated Easter and were anxiously awaiting a match to our “missing piece”

A Diagnosis: Slavery in America

We were slaves to this Christian American Dream and didn’t even know it. We were blind in our bondage to busyness, bowing to the idol of an ideal family life, and justifying the deceptive cravings of our flesh to keep up with the people around us who were marching to the same busy-stressed out beat.


Hasn’t that word become a status symbol in middle class America, like a medal we hang around our necks to show the world that we have achieved or are well on our way to getting there?  Or is it an invisible shackle, a collar around our neck, quietly and deceptively leading us to fill our days with tasks, appointments, responsibilities, and sometimes meaningless fluff? Busy is the way we climb ladders.

2 years ago, family life looked like this: busy jobs, a tight schedule, many chores to attend to on the weekends, evenings filled with Bart’s supervision/kids’ activities/homework/showers/crash into bed.  Exhaustion. Try to rest up on the weekends, be exceedingly thankful for 3 day weekends, and count down to longer breaks where we could really get away & reconnect to times of refreshing.  Sundays: go to church, get the groceries, make sure the laundry is “caught up” (ha!) & put away, take a look at the week ahead, try not to be anxious- you can do it, 5 days will pass in a flash.  Take a deep breath, go to bed, and there goes life.

2 years ago, family goals looked like this: stay on top of school work for kids and help them stay on track to get “good grades”, keep them busy with a variety of activities (sign up, practices, games, private lessons too if you can find them) so one day they will know what they’re passionate about and so they will stay busy and not get lazy, plan fun getaways and family vacations when you can (afterall, what is life if it isn’t all about making family memories?), attempt to aggressively pay off debt, save for the future, plan for the next home improvement project, be a good Christian family, stay plugged into church, & be a respectable and giving member of the community.


We were essentially wearing ourselves out to check every box on the American Dream checklist.  As writer Shannan Martin said, we were chasing down the elusive American Dream, with a side of Jesus.  We wanted to do the right things, move forward, stay ahead of the game, be a good example to our kids. We wanted our kids to have a good childhood and growing up experience.  We wanted them to have every opportunity that we had growing up and more, if possible. We were looking at the blueprints we’d just received from our architect to finally give our 3 kids their own rooms and get us the master suite that we had waited for, sacrificed for, and justified that we deserved.

It wasn’t like we weren’t praying or seeking God individually, as a family, and in community.  We were growing in recognizable spurts, making shifts where necessary, and trying to find our niche to effectively serve others too.  We wanted to please God in all things. But we were exhausted. Something about this setup didn’t feel satisfying, or at the very least that it would be sustainable for very long.

We were slaves to this Christian American Dream and didn’t even know it.  We were blind in our bondage to busyness, bowing to the idol of an ideal family life, and justifying the deceptive cravings of our flesh to keep up with the people around us who were marching to the same busy-stressed out beat.  We fit in nicely with our name brand clothes and full schedules, but our insides were slowly withering away.  How can you pour from a cup that is dry? The secret places of our hearts were being suffocated by all the efforts required to keep all the balls in the air, the boxes checked each day, and the train moving forward.

Surely this could not be the abundant life Jesus speaks of- the mystical branch that bears much fruit.  Maybe these years are just meant to survive? Maybe we do, in fact, just live for the weekends, the summer breaks, & look forward to the much longed for retirement years?  And so we march on, not even knowing of the shackles we carry as we follow each other around the walls of the pit in which we dwell. Yes, we can see the blue skies above, but somehow that feels like the reward we earn for working hard in THIS season….we’ll get THERE in due time.

Have I ever told you that my biggest fear is wasting my life?  I’m not really scared of death or spiders or flying, but the thought of squandering the allotted sand in my hourglass makes me shudder in fear.  I’m not exactly sure that I can remember when I first started realizing that was such a driving force in my life, but it has become more powerful with each year that passes.  I sometimes wonder if am a minority in that type of thought process or if there are others who wrestle with this stewardship angst in their souls. If I had to guess, I would say that the process of facing up to the realities of death at a fairly young age had something to do with this motivator within me.  I just don’t take life for granted. If I’m given a string of days on this planet to know & enjoy God, then that’s what I want to spend my life pursuing. If my days are filled with the grace and resources to turn around multiply that grace and light in this world, then that’s what I want to spend my days pouring into.  If I’m not guaranteed tomorrow and God already has my days recorded in His book of life, then the only true thing I have to worry about is squandering my dash. Hence my biggest fear: wasting my life.

The problem I began to find with my pursuit of the American Dream, with a side of Jesus, was that my life was so filled with things to do that I never had time to intentionally reflect and recalibrate to make sure I was pouring out into the right things.  I was assuming my “yes” onto such a plethora of activities that I had zero margin.  I transposed the hope of not wasting my life onto a life that was busy with good things.  In fact, it was bursting with good things. But somehow I still felt exhausted and a bit hypocritical.  We had no vision or birdseye picture of the blueprints we were building from outside of this elusive American Dream (with a side of Jesus) that everyone around us was also chasing.  If we are given 80 years of life, will we look back then and praise God for the grace to build a life worthy of our calling in Him? Better yet, when we arrive in the kingdom of God, will we watch the reel of our dash played out and know with a blessed assurance that we poured all of our resources out to bring Him glory?

Of course perfection is an impossible standard by which to measure fractured souls, but is it possible to strive after a life not wasted?  I think if we look at Jesus, we can find our model of a life poured out, an unwasted life. In the earthly life of Jesus, we see a rhythm for the beat of life and it’s not the busy-stressed out beat of the American dream.  It’s the unhurried rhythms of grace that are held in place by margin, intentional space left to seek first His unseen kingdom and His righteousness with no agenda.  

Jesus came to redeem and to restore what is broken.  On the path to the cross, He modeled for us how to spend our one life, our grains of sand, in a way that is wise and fruitful for eternity.  Jesus came to show us the one true God, to fulfill His mission as the One and Only Lamb slain for the sins of many. If anyone had the weight of the world on His shoulders, it was Jesus.  He had a messy life, with sinful people surrounding Him, and needs constantly pressing in on Him. Yet, we see these regular rhythms in His life of getting alone to seek His Father. The life of Jesus was one of supreme accomplishment and productivity, but His main goal was to glorify His Father.  He never had so much to do that He didn’t allow for margin.  He had the wisdom to say NO to certain good works in order to say YES to the time needed to seek His Father in Heaven above all.

So why are we often too busy for that same margin?  Why are so many self-proclaimed followers of Jesus too busy to regularly commit to a time of worship, or to a daily discipline to the study of Scripture and prayer, or to embrace the vulnerable fellowship of doing life with other believers? Is it possible that we are a Christian culture, unknowingly wearing our shackles and circling the pit of busyness, squandering the sand in our hourglass without realizing it?  As the world around us shamelessly builds kingdoms in the sand, are we doing the same?  When was the last time that we pulled away from the hum of activity to be with our Father in Heaven to ask Him for His blueprints, the ones that are built on the Rock of Jesus and that will last for all of eternity?  From the Throne of Heaven, do we appear to be like the slaves in Egypt, exhausting our families in labors that are only in vain?

Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.”  Psalm 127:1

In this current season of life, God has been so patient to teach me about His kingdom and pour out His grace to lead me as I repent over and over about my stubborn habits.  In the margin spaces of this time at home with a new toddler, He has been showing me a birds eye view of life in light of eternity- what things will count and what will have been a waste.  Repeatedly, I have asked Him for the grace to help me spend my one life in a way that brings Him glory.  I know my temptation will always be to swim with the current of the culture and try to make my own kingdom great, but I believe He hears my pleas to save me from that path.  I hear His truth reminding me that He will give me my daily bread, the vision/blueprints/resources needed for the fulfillment of the plan for each day, one day at a time. I just have to be willing to come to Him each day and seek all that I am lacking in myself.  Margin paves the way to prioritize getting to know the Author, the Architect, the Builder.  To know this One and Only Lord is to love Him. In loving Him, we are building a life unwasted.

In looking back, I am finding that God has given me 2 great thermometers in my life to help me gauge which kingdom blueprints I’m building with: how I spend my time and my money.  These are 2 great treasures and resources that He has given to each person to spend as we choose.

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  

Matthew 6:19-21


When I am living into the eternal kingdom of Jesus, my life will be filled with His rhythms of joyful, sacrificial generosity with both my time and money: my very life will be His for the taking. On the flipside, when my soul has wandered back into the slavery of earthly kingdom building, my life will be marked by rhythms of spending my time and money on my own selfish ambitions that are temporary and exhausting….giving will be stingy and without much personal sacrifice of my own desires.  One produces a slow, fruitful abundance that multiplies and lasts forever. The other produces a form of prosperity that eventually withers away and ends in the destruction of all that was built.  

The wisdom of Proverbs gives me yet another arrow pointing me in the way of freedom and true abundance:

The world of the generous gets larger and larger;
   the world of the stingy gets smaller and smaller.

The one who blesses others is abundantly blessed;
   those who help others are helped.”  

Proverbs 11:24-25, MSG

When I am longing for a life marked by blessing and growth, I first need to be generous toward God- not out of guilt, but out of a sincere delight and wonder over what He might build with my meager offering.  Building a life of abundance and multiplication can only happen when we seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness (Matt 6:33).  Fear of scarcity causes us to hold tightly to what we are already building without considering if it is what will last.  Fear of missing out or getting behind only drives us to say yes before we take the time to seek what we should be giving our yeses to; hence wasting our resources.  When we make room for more of God to inhabit space in our hearts and our days, His perfect love drives out that fear and makes a way for a life unwasted.  


When we live to the glory of God, we can be sure that our lives will in fact fulfill their destiny. We don’t have to march to the stressed-out, busy, keeping up with the Joneses beat of the kingdoms of this world.  A narrow gate is open to us, with a Savior beckoning us to come & learn from Him the rhythms of grace that will satisfy our souls forever, even as we build a life on earth that will echo in eternity.  Day by day.  Grace upon grace.  Step by step. The Shepherd will faithfully lead us.