Taking a Census

Chapter 21 of I Chronicles is not one of the best known stories in the Bible. While some might have peripheral knowledge of it, not many have stopped to really think about what it means today in our modern lives.

I’ve shared with this blog previously about the fact that my husband is hoping for funding to come through for a startup that he’s involved in. Because my husband is a visionary who sees the big picture, and builds virtual cities for data to live in, he doesn’t do so well with feet-on-the-ground details. And so, in the negotiating of salary and such, there were a few gaps.

When the funding was delayed, my husband went back and renegotiated these issues, and the good news is that when/if funding becomes available, we’ll be paid retroactively for two distinct periods — one from when he began working informally several months ago, and one for full-time employment as of what should have been his hard start date of March 1.

What a load off my mind!

Now mind you, there’s no guarantee that this funding will come through. However, the business plan is solid. The guy doing the startup and meeting with the venture capitalists (VCs) is very accomplished and in a position of power and influence within his field. The numbers are fantastic for profit, and the revenue streams are not ad based — or selling advertising — but transaction based; the company would profit a small amount for each transaction. Good stuff.

I am, on the other hand, a very firm pragmatist. Feet-on-the-ground is my spesh-ial-i-TEE, and so I am very aware that many good ideas, many great business schemes, go down in flames if they ever get off the ground in the first place.

However, when Whitney told me that we would receive lump-sum back pay amounts should it happen, my mind went ZIIIIING considering all the possibilities! I was driving; otherwise, I’d probably have pulled out my trusty spreadsheet to run the numbers!

Fortunately, I had only started to mutter to myself, “Okay well at [insert annual salary here], if you divide that by twe…”

And, the words “David,” “census,” and “sin” popped into my head. It wasn’t a coherent thought necessarily; it was just a half-formed memory of the story, and I immediately remembered the mild confusion I’d always felt whenever I had come across the narrative.

Why in the world was it a problem that David ordered a census of all the fighting men?

Because I’m a planner, because I’m the budgeter of the family Walters, counting, assessing, and preparing make complete sense to me! It’s only wise to figure out what you have, what you can expect, and plan accordingly, right?

But, the story continued to niggle, and so I consciously put aside my financial musings.

When I got home, I looked the story up and read the entire chapter of 1 Chronicles 21.

Wow! Have you really read that story?! It’s pretty intense!

It starts out with the context that Lucifer, the roaring lion himself, incited David to take the census! Joab protested because he knew it was wrong, but when bullied into it, fudged the numbers.

At this point David, as was his habit, realized way after the fact that he had committed a sin and begged forgiveness.

Get this. God says (through a “seer”) basically that David has to pick his punishment: three years of famine, three years of persecution for the nation from their enemies, or three days of “the sword of the Lord” — or plague.

Woah.

David chose plague and 70,000 died.

That’s a pretty strong statement of how God feels about this census business.

And so, I’ve been pondering this whole question of what exactly a census is.

David counted his fighting men so that he knew how many men he could count on in a battle.

It’s almost as if David were saying that he needed to prepare because God’s provisions might not cover it all.

God won a battle with 300 men against a whole host. The Bible described it this way: “The Midianites, the Amalekites and all the other eastern peoples had settled in the valley, thick as locusts. Their camels could no more be counted than the sand on the seashore.”

Three hundred against tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands? More than a million?

How many times do we limit God by counting our “fighting men,” our dollars, our bonuses, our expected gains?

For the first time, I completely and totally understand the application of the story to my life. I get it.

You see, we just might get the funding. Or, we may not. If we get the funding, we may just get a nice raise and a lump-sum amount. Or, the business may go crazy and we get a fortune. Or, it may bite the dust and Whitney will end up having to find another job.

I’m still a budgeter. I still need to manage my family’s finances. But, I don’t have to run ahead of God. What I know for sure and certain is this. God’s provision will blow me out of the water. It’ll either be Him taking two mites and stretching it to cover exactly what we need. Or, it may involve financial blessings galore.

I’m not plugging anything into my spreadsheet. I’m not thinking about this eventuality or that. I’m thankful just for today for everything He’s given our family. He’s going to handle the rest. I will simply sit back and watch.

Restoring My Boat

I have spent the last few minutes reading my past posts on this blog, and I realized that God has had me on a journey to explore the whole boat analogy as it relates to my life and my walk with Jesus.

My first post relating to boats was about how the disciples went out with Jesus in a boat, and when things got rough, they completely forgot about him. Jesus, sleeping quietly in a corner somewhere, was completely overlooked.

My lesson was not to let fear make me forget about the One who has the ability to calm the storm and sea.

Soon after, I continued the sleeping-in-the-boat analogy, except I longed, like Jesus, to sleep in the midst of all the chaos and fear that life throws at me. Seems like I’ve had more than my share of chaos and disruptions in the last decade! I wanted to learn to trust so completely that someone has to wake me up to see how God’s put it all in place!

I just watched the movie “The Shack,” and it seems like maybe there’s a new lesson for me to be learned from boats!

To set the scene up for you, the main character, Mack, has gone out on a lake in a rowboat. Jesus tells him that there’s something He wants to show Mack on the other side of the lake, but that He will join him after finishing something up in the shop.

Rowing across the lake

Mack gets halfway across the lake and then stops, almost as if he’s enjoying the peace, the slap of the water against the sides of the boat. Dipping his hand into the water and pulling it back out, he realizes that the water is oily, black, and nasty.

At this point, the boat begins breaking apart. First a crack and then a hole spurting water, it’s clear that the boat won’t last much longer.

In the middle of the chaos, Mack hears Jesus’ voice telling him not to look at the battered boat, to focus on Him, Jesus. He stares horrified and transfixed as the water continues to pour in; he glances at Jesus, but his eyes are drawn back to the disaster that’s happening to him. The boat is soon half submerged. It’s only as it is almost under the murky water, Mack sitting in water up to his waist, that he locks eyes with Jesus.

In that very moment, the boat is once again under him, intact, bobbing on the waves. He breathes a huge sigh of relief. His boat is as he knows and wants it, once again secure.

Mack is relieved when the boat appears beneath him once again.

Then Jesus holds out a hand, inviting him out of the boat onto the waves.

Let me interrupt myself to tell you what’s been going on with us in the first quarter of this year!

Late last year, 2016, my husband was contacted by a businessman that he knew and trusted about being involved in a start-up offering services to the military. It seemed like an awesome opportunity, and he’s been working part time, unpaid, to create budgets, meet with potential employees, etc. His start date — as in full-time and starting to get a paycheck — was March 1, just a month or so ago.

At the end of January, we were contacted by the man who owns the house we live in. For the second time in three years, we found out that the rental property we were living in would be sold. This time, however, we had ample time to plan; our landlord indicated that they would be selling in August.

Then also in late January, we found out that our still-new-to-us minivan had sustained subtle and undetected damage last summer during a hailstorm, and after a month of negotiating, the insurance company determined that it was totaled. Unfortunately, what they valued the van at wouldn’t cover the balance of our loan.

So, right around March 1 of this year, we found out that funding for the new job hadn’t come through, despite the fact that my husband had already given his two-week notice at his former job, leaving us with no paycheck anywhere on the horizon.

Our vehicle was totaled, leaving us with a $2,000 balance to pay on the auto loan.

And, we’ll have to find a new house in the next four or five months.

Yeah. My boat’s breaking apart and the water’s pouring in!

I’ve been watching in horror as each new thing hits, trying to focus on Jesus, knowing that He’s got it all handled and that He’s taken care of our family in the past faithfully.

It’s not like I want outrageous things! My hopes are relatively modest, I believe. I simply want a paycheck to cover bills. I want a new, used, decent vehicle. Tired of feeling like we have no control over our own housing, we want to buy a house rather than rent again.

In fact, with this new start-up opportunity, there was enough of a raise that I’d even begun to hope for upgrades to my boat! A nicer, newer used vehicle! Perhaps we might actually be able to look for a home with horse property — a dream of mine since childhood!

I didn’t want a yacht. I wasn’t hoping for new and shiny. I would have been happy with cushions on the bow seat and perhaps an outboard motor. Nothing fancy.

Suddenly, instead of upgrades, I watched my boat begin to slide under the waters.

Then, in the movie, Jesus restores Mack’s boat! All is well! This has been my hope and prayer since everything started caving in! It’s what I’ve believed God for in our lives!

And, then it hits me.

God doesn’t want us in the boat at all. He wants us out of the boat!

Jesus invites us to get out of the boat!

How much time and energy we devote to taking care of the boat! Tending the boat, upgrading the boat, and praying thanks for the boat — when all along, it might be the very thing that’s standing between us and what would be best for us in our walk with Jesus!

I’ve decided that I’m going to be thankful when my boat is restored…even if it’s a life raft…or a half-submerged log floating by. What I’m going to start praying for is that I will see opportunity to step out of the boat!

I’m going to pray that God changes my heart from dreading uncertainty, and that He shows me the delight and the miracles along the way, just like Jesus then shows Mack the beauty of His creation as they walk along the top of the waves.

That Moment When

I remember when my oldest child, Ethan, who is now 17 years old, was a tiny thing and I thought about everything I was going to teach him. I was going to do it right, too, I tell you!

I’d armed myself with all my books by Dr. Raymond and Dorothy Moore. Books like Better Late Than Early and the annotated version School Can Wait, The Successful Homeschool Family Handbook, Home Grown Kids, and many more.

I was ready!

To WAIT!

And, wait I would. Because I wasn’t going to force my children to learn to read.

Then, while I was waiting, Ethan did something unexpected.

He taught himself to read.

But, seriously! The only thing I did, quite selfishly, was purchase a LeapPad for him to play with in the car. In fact, I wouldn’t let him play it anywhere else other than in the car because I didn’t want him to a) lose the parts (there were books and cartridges that went together) and thus have nothing to do in the car, or b) get bored with it and thus have nothing to do in the car.

After playing with the books, he would ask me these questions – out of the blue – like, “Mom? Why don’t you pronounce both these letters [referring to vowels]?” Pointing to the A and the E in the word SAVE.

“Oh, that’s because the second vowel is silent so that the first says its name.”

Several days later, he’d challenge, “Mom? This word doesn’t follow the rules,” pointing to the word SIGHT. “The letter I says its name even though there’s only one [vowel].”

“Nope,” I’d answer. “That’s because there’s another rule that says…”

Or, “I guess that one breaks the rules,” in the case of most of the sight words.

We walked our way through the phonics rules in this manner — me explaining one, Ethan identifying either one that followed a new rule or a rule breaker. That’s what he called them, “rule breakers.”

And, just like that he was reading! Before the age of six! By not-quite-eight years old, he was reading chapter books.

Boy, did I think I was good.

Actually, I kind of felt like a fraud at this homeschooling thing. I was supposed to be teaching him, but instead he was managing quite well without me.

In retrospect, I was so glad that he was my first child and not Lowell.

Lowell was a completely different story.

Lowell wasn’t reading by the time he was eight. He showed no aptitude by the time he was 10. At 12, I started second-guessing myself, second-guessing my methods. And then I would look at my son who, had he attended traditional school, would have been diagnosed as having ADD/ADHD, SPD, with Asperger’s and dyslexia.

And, instead of being labeled, instead of believing himself to be “disabled” or stupid or a whole host of other less-formal labels, my son was a little oblivious — blissfully oblivious to what others thought of him. I was the one who fielded questions or looks from those who thought he should have been reading long before then.

My poor mother was almost beside herself. She’s a very in-the-box thinker, and she was not so certain about this whole homeschooling thing, at least not the way I was going about it. Unschooling, indeed!

And then one day…he was reading.

I don’t know how it happened. It wasn’t because I sat him down and worked with a curriculum. It wasn’t any one specific thing I did. Except that I waited.

I waited for him to find a reason to learn to read. And write. They came hand in hand since his motivation to read – and write – resulted from playing games on a server with his friends. The only way they could communicate was by a rudimentary instant messenger program.

My oldest daughter, four years younger than my youngest son, wasn’t reading at the age of six, or eight.

This child! Oh, I have to laugh. THIS child was the one that the other homeschooling mom at our church — one of the leaders — had to corral and explain to her that it made homeschoolers look bad when she went around announcing that she didn’t read because she was homeschooled!

My kids are long on confidence, short on nuance.

And so I waited with her too. Of course, it didn’t help that our youth pastor’s wife is a fifth-grade school teacher…who doesn’t appreciate the fact that my children are late readers…and that I do nothing about it.

Waiting has had a different feel to it this time. It feels a little like a subtle chess game punctuated with awkward silences where conversations aren’t had. Even when it’s just she and I, standing there, pretending that we aren’t not crazy about each other. It’s the silence instead of the “Good morning,” or “Happy Sabbath.” It’s dodging into rooms off hallways and seeing her do the same.

And, I smile. Because fundamentally, I know that she believes strongly in what she does. And, I know that I do too. I guess as long as I avoid the pitched battle, I should be thankful, no?

Until one day, my daughter knew how to read. Just like that. No fuss, no muss.

I used to tease this daughter, “Wait a minute. You can’t be texting. You don’t know how to read!”

Predictably, she would just roll her eyes, smile, and say, “Oh mom…”

I have one last girl child who is almost 10 years old. She’s not reading.

Since we now live in a neighborhood replete with little girls her age and younger who are all reading with ease, she’s made lots of noise about wanting to learn how to read. And so, I do what I’ve done with all my children. I encourage her. I purchase reading programs, just like I did with Ethan all those years ago. And, I’m not above bribery!

I’ve told Laurie that once she learns to read, I’ll start her in voice lessons. She was interested and excited for precisely one day.

I guess I’m just sitting here writing with a firm knowing in my chest that, one day, I’ll look up and this girl child will be holding a baby of her own. She’ll start on a journey where she’ll decide to allow her children to learn at home. Or she’ll homeschool them. Or they’ll head off to school each morning.

But, one thing I know: She’ll be reading long before then.

And, I’ll wait. I’m not in a hurry.

A couple of months ago, I took the kids with my mom up into the mountains to look at the fall colors. We went over a pass called “Guanella Pass” just outside Denver.

As we were driving, Mom and I were chatting about the name, wondering if it were an early explorer to our state.

“Lowell. Google it on your phone.”

Several moments later, he began reading about the history of the area.

In that moment, I had one of those times of clarity. I liken it to the commercials where the action stops. The man or woman has leapt in the air during a rainstorm and everything freezes. The raindrops hang suspended as does the main character in the scene.

Suddenly the camera swings around to a different perspective — from the side and behind to directly in front — and a second later the action continues.

I had one of those moments, with my mom, lately a believer, and my three younger children driving along a pretty mountain pass.

“Mom,” I said quietly as Lowell paused mid-sentence, “Lowell’s reading.”

Call Me Pastrami on Rye

I have now officially joined the ranks of the sandwich generation.

It’s been three years since my dad died of complications from Alzheimer’s disease. The nurses contacted me that morning; perhaps my mom hadn’t answered their call. I was the backup contact.

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We arrived at the nursing home mid-morning; he died around midnight. In the intervening hours, my mother, who has been, throughout her life, solid and stoic, grieved like I’ve never seen anyone grieve. At one point, she had no idea where she was. It was shocking.

My mom was a nurse who became a director in two hospital systems. She was masterful at managing her departments and actually getting rid of ineffectual union-protected employees (at a certain point, they would start transferring when word went out that she was coming in). She was a powerhouse.

That day in December of 2013, I remember watching her sob, so frail after Dad passed away. In that moment, I said to God, “It’s okay. She needs to grieve. But, at some point, I want my mom back.”

It was a prayer that would go unanswered.

My mom has never been the same. It’s like she doesn’t have the same drive or focus. One week prior to my dad’s death, his mother also died. Mom had been primary care giver — despite them both being in facilities — to both. Soon thereafter, she also quit her part-time nursing job that she’d had since she’d retired.

Now she had no reason to leave her apartment.

And, in the last three years we’ve watched, helpless and sad, as she declined physically and most recently mentally.

And so last month, my sister began talking to her about the necessity of her giving up her own apartment that was a financial drain. She has three daughters, and combined with her family and friends and the visiting possibilities, there’s no reason she can’t live with my sister and then travel a bit.

It sounded like a fantastic idea — until she unexpectedly gave notice at her apartment, necessitating a move in with my family until she leaves to live with another sister out of state for several months before finally settling back in with my older sister just north of me.

While it is only a temporary arrangement — Mom will live with us through the first of December — I find myself squarely in a sandwich between the children I’m raising and my mom who needs me.

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With everything going on with my oldest son during the last year and especially this summer, I’ve felt like I’ve lived in such emotionally upheaval! I’m dealing with physical manifestations of my stress; ironically, my shoulder has developed a condition called adhesive capsulitis, or frozen shoulder.

Isn’t it interesting that it’s my shoulders that are suffering? The pain is excruciating at times. And, there’s no reasonable explanation as to what started it. Unless it’s the weight that they’re carrying around.

My kids have mixed emotions about Grandma moving in. I think they’re still mostly excited, and I’m doing my very best to encourage that. I’ve read accounts of other homeschooling families who had unexpected situations come up that have turned out to be huge blessings despite it interrupting schedules and plans. Heaven knows she might bring a bit of structure and routine to our sometimes-crazy household!

My mom was my rock as I was growing up, and now it’s my turn to be her soft place to land. She’s got health challenges that seem daunting, and I’m already praying for wisdom and strength. I guess it’s time to start leaning, even more so, on my real Rock as I face this new situation!

The Prodigal

The Prodigal Son’s father.

I hadn’t spent much time thinking about him, the role he played in the story. We read so little about him, his part limited to giving his son his part of the inheritance and then, at the end, running down the road welcoming his son.

The postlude has him explaining to his oldest about his reasons for celebrating, inviting his son to join in the festivities.

It seems like the story takes up much more than the 31 verses that it does. It’s a well-explored and oft-preached theme — a favorite.

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And yet, I hadn’t thought much about him. The father who had failed.

Wait a minute. Failed? The father is rarely portrayed as a failure! He’s typified as forgiveness in human form! Representing God Himself who waits for the sinner and welcomes him back with open arms and a party!

But, that’s skipping part of the story. Perhaps the most important part of the story.

What kind of a father raises a son who turns his back on the values he was raised with? A son who sleeps with prostitutes? Much more severe than simply a son who has premarital sex with even a few women! Prostitutes?! This son does everything that those who sit on the sidelines deem far from “normal” or even “acceptable”!

If we could go back and watch this family…or perhaps bring this family forward into our times, we wouldn’t be so magnanimous, looking only to the end of the story and calling the father “forgiving” or “wise.” Oh, no! Because, fundamentally, we believe that a failure of a child to live by certain standards, within certain norms, is even more a failure of that parent.

Failure.

Even if we don’t assign it to those around us, when our children take their inheritances and walk away from us, we take in into our hearts. We hear the whispering of failure and believe it. Sometimes it’s whispered in the looks and overheard conversations of others. Other times it’s the voices we hear in our own heads in the dark of the night when we can’t sleep.

The inheritance.

Having very little inheritance for my children, I never really identified with this part of the story. If given their portion of our wealth, our children wouldn’t get much more than a Builder bar and a box of CapriSun pouches, let alone prostitutes and partying with friends. I’m safe there. And yet, the parables of the Bible never only apply literally. What inheritance do I have to give my children?

I’m a homeschooling mom. I have amassed hours and hours spending time with my children, talking to them about life, about my beliefs, about what I believe to be important life skills. This is the inheritance I have to wrap up in a beautiful box with an ornate bow on the top and give them as they leave to start their adult lives!

In all the times I’ve read about the Prodigal Son, or heard sermons on the topic, or read books that broached the topic, I’ve never — not once — considered the father’s relationship to his sons. I guess I just skipped over that part. I must have assumed that this father wasn’t around for his sons’ first steps. I assumed that he never read books to them when they were little…not there for bedtime rituals. As the sons grew, it would have seemed obvious to me that the father was absorbed in his work, too busy at night — if he was even home for dinners — to engage in discussion with his sons about life, relationships, right and wrong.

Failure.

There’s no way that a successful parent could have raised a son who left home, way too early, and completely rejected the lifestyle he’d been raised with, the God he’d been raised believing in, the values of the father.

No, that spoke of a fundamental failure. A loss.

Almost a month ago, my 17-year-old told me that he’d made the decision to move out. Told me that he’s doesn’t want to live the lifestyle we’d raised him with. While he loves us, he doesn’t want to live within the boundaries required by our family structure.

Failure.

Even on good days, when I know that I did everything I could as he was growing — spent hours talking to him, teaching him stories from the Bible and how it applied to him, showing him every way I could my two basic principles for life: love Jesus and love people — I am vividly aware that others look at my son and see failure…my failure probably more than his.

My inheritance. His inheritance. The box crushed and bow ground under foot. Wasted like the money of the Prodigal Son.

In the last month, I have identified more with the Prodigal’s father than I ever thought I would. Suddenly I see him through different eyes. Knowing everything I poured into my son and our relationship, I start to glimpse a new possibility. Perhaps that father did everything right! Perhaps he was involved and interested! Perhaps he spent hours teaching his sons about God and the blessings they enjoyed — at the very least about his business and the commerce he was involved in!

Maybe the father was just as shocked as I was when the relationship seemed to sour, quite despite the overwhelming love he felt for his son…that I felt for my son.

Like the father in the story, I didn’t fight my son’s decision. I didn’t try and dissuade him, knowing that it would only cause a deeper rupture in the relationship, driving him farther from me.

Unlike the father, I know that my son’s still alive. I have cell phones and texting. When I text, he responds. The father of the Prodigal had no such reassurance. For all he knew, his son truly was dead, lying in a ditch from accident or from criminal activity, or dead from over-consumption of drugs or alcohol.

Paradoxically perhaps, since the father represents God, I feel better about my failure(s) as a parent, if you will. It’s been pointed out that although He’s perfect, his children — Adam and Eve — rebelled. In the parable, the younger Son rebelled. And the older son was no saint either despite his apparent obedience! Why do we look at families in crisis, children in rebellion, and assume that there was a failure on some level of the parents?

Those of us who are disciplinarians assume that the parents were too permissive. If we tend toward a looser parenting style, we assume that the rules were too rigidly enforced. I’ve been guilty of it myself. And, at the same time, I convict myself…blame myself.

At one point, during that fateful conversation, my son spoke words that broke my heart: “Mom, I’m not as bad a kid as you think I am.”

Oh, my heart hurt! I didn’t think he was a bad kid! I thought he was making poor decisions! I knew the consequences of those poor decisions! But, at the same time, I knew that fundamentally he is a good person!

Far from believing him to be bad, as my son was saying those words, I was only aware of my heart squeezing. I just loved him so much! My response was, “Son, my love isn’t dependent on your behavior. There’s nothing you could do to make me love you more right now, in this moment. And, there’s nothing you can do to make me love you less. I just love you.”

This is exactly the heart of our Father God as we stand in rebellion to Him. Intended or not, we all stand in a place of rebellion. And now, I understand it on a profound level: He will never love me more; He will never love me less. His love is not dependent on my behavior, nor on my choices even if they’re poor ones.

And so, I’m living the story of the Prodigal Son. I hope and pray to see my son coming home some day! I don’t expect it to be soon! But, I strive only to show my son the love that he craves, even as he does things that hurt me to my core… Every day learning to be more like Jesus.