Trust, Patience…and Blueberry Donuts by Mikayla Briggs

This article was written by Mikayla Briggs.  Here’s a little bit about her…

Hi!  My name is Mikayla Briggs, and I just graduated from Holland Christian High School (Go Maroons!!).  I was so blessed to have HC be my home for four years.  It was the best place to nurture and develop my faith, and now I can’t wait to live out that faith at Hope College in the fall.  I’m majoring in Biology—at least that’s the current plan 🙂  I love expressing myself through dancing and writing short stories, and it’s something that I hope to do more of.

A few days ago I was reading one of my favorite devotional books: Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff for Teens–Simple Ways to Keep Your Cool in Stressful Times by Richard Carlson, Ph.D. It’s a really incredible book filled with suggestions for teens (but really anyone could benefit from them) on how to handle stress and create a happier life for yourself.

I flipped through the contents, and a particular chapter caught my eye: Develop a Theme for the Day. I decided to read on.

Carlson proceeded to talk about a simple strategy that involved waking up in the morning and developing a virtuous theme to carry out throughout the day. Patience, compassion, forgiveness, listening, gratitude–all were great examples of virtues to practice.

It really is a great method, and depending on the theme you decide, you’ll be surprised to find in how many situations that virtue comes into play. Let me give you an example:

After reading this, I chose to give it a shot. But, all of the virtues seemed so great, so I resolved to let God decide which theme I should practice the next day. That night, I prayed to God.
God, I ask that you choose my theme for tomorrow. You know what will happen in the course of my day, so I ask that, according to your will, you give me a theme that will best equip me for the challenges of tomorrow. I trust you. Now, I put it in your capable, loving hands. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

That night, I had a dream.

I was at work, and had a customer who was basically trying to buy the entire store. As a cashier, these are very stressful moments to deal with! Yet, the woman paying seemed very kind and did not try to rush me. I was nervous, and tried to complete the job quickly and efficiently. The woman continued to be kind and patient, and I continued to feel rushed and nervous. And as the dream progressed, I realized that she wasn’t rushing me–I was rushing myself. Even though the items continued to pile up on the counter, she was completely content.

Upon waking up, I knew what God wanted my theme to be: patience. I smiled to myself. God came through, as He always does. I couldn’t wait to live out that theme for the day. Now I actually had to get ready for work.

Work was great. I did not expect it to be that active, but it was packed! We were busy most of the day, running around, meeting the needs of all our customers.

Tired and ready to go home, it was 4:50, and ten minutes before closing. The store was still pretty packed, and most of the chores on the closing list hadn’t even been started, so I knew it would be awhile before I could leave. I was wondering how we could find the time to complete the closing chores and be out by 5:15 while it was so hectic. But, it didn’t look like it would happen.

Finally, things started to slow down, and I was still up at the front counter while my coworkers began chores on the closing list. Then, the store was empty. It was five minutes before closing. I was about to help my coworkers with closing when a man walked in, so I had to stay at the front counter until he left the store. He seemed very kind, and began to ask me all sorts of questions with a smile on his face.

“Do you have ice cream?”
“Who makes the ice cream?”
“When do your blueberries come in?” “Are these cherries yours?”
“How much are they?”
“Are these your blueberries?”
(I work at a blueberry farm:)

It was strange, though. My inward impatience had grown right up until the moment when he walked into the store. Then suddenly, I remembered the theme that God had given me that morning, and instantly became more calm. I answered his questions with a smile on my face and a newfound patience that wasn’t there before. While everyone else in the store raced around and tried to get things done, I was completely calm, and happier than I had felt all day.

An undeniable sense of peace enveloped me while speaking to this man, and there was no doubt that God was there with me. The man stayed until closing, and was then on his way. We continued to close the store, and left at around 5:20. Only a few more minutes out of my life 🙂

This experience taught me a few different, important lessons:

1) The power of prayer is great. This is just one of countless occasions where I can say that God answered my prayers. When you genuinely pray with the passionate desire to bring God’s Kingdom on earth, I can promise you that He will come through. Yet, you have to patient, because your prayer might not be answered in the way that you would expect. But, it’s all in accordance to His perfect will…which brings me to my next point 🙂

2) Trust God always. He has your best interests in mind all the time! If you trust in His perfection, goodness and grace, you will be much happier. There will be a colossal weight instantaneously lifted from your fragile shoulders when you bring it to God. And it feels so impossibly good 🙂 That strong faith in God brings the most indescribable joy.

3) Create a theme for yourself everyday. I found this to be a great way to accomplish my goal. If you’re the kind of person with a passionate desire to be like Jesus, you know that it is the most rewarding journey–and the most difficult. Don’t get me wrong, it is totally worth it! But, Jesus is perfect. And that’s a lot to live up to. I find that I get down on myself a lot when I don’t perfectly live up to His expectations for my life, and as you can imagine, that happens a lot!

Imagine waking up in the morning and telling yourself that you will be selfless, compassionate, forgiving, patient, kind, optimistic, grateful, joyful, good, understanding AND thoughtful. That’s a lot to perfect in one day. This method taught me to not be so hard on myself, and reinforced the idea in my mind that God knows we’re not perfect. We are trying to be like The One who is flawless, but we will fail a lot along the way, and God understands that. Just take it one virtue at a time 🙂

4) God is good, and always comes through. This goes back to #2, but God is totally and 100% trustworthy. It’s amazing what can happen when you put everything you have into His hands. The results, you’ll find, are amazing.

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Gift 47 – Welcome home!

“Look at the flowers of the field. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you?”

Getting ready to leave the hospital.

Getting ready to leave the hospital.

Ahhhhhh!

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Meeting Piper for the first time…

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I’m pretty sure he likes you.

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Daddy and the nap time guard dogs.

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Hey Reagan, what’s the meaning of life?

Hmm…let me think about it.

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You: Daddy, how did the dinosaurs go extinct?

Me: I don’t know, Reagan, how?

dipe

You: Tar pits.

Trying to figure out this whole dad thing.

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Time for a music break…

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First bath at home!

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Rae,

The value of our home has gone through the roof since becoming a family of three (five if you count the pups).  It’s so so good to be together.  As funny as it sounds, I keep thinking about God and his love of home.  God’s first action in the Scriptures is to make a home where he can his children can live together.  When that home is lost, the rest of Scripture is full of God’s desire to bring his family back.  “I will be their God and I will be their people.”  Home.  Together.

Home is what God loves.  Recovering home is what he died for.  This is that longing in our hearts, too–to be home in the company of the Trinity.  Invited up and in, into the great Family Room of God’s hospitality.  These few days with you has given me a clearer picture and fuller taste of just what it is God loves so dearly, and why he loves it so much.

Gift 46 – HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

Dear Reagan Quinn Russ,

This is by far the best day of my life.

Gift 45 – Your Mommy

So let’s talk for just a minute.

Your mom, there’s no one like her.

By the time you’re reading this I’m sure you’ve already realized that she’s the prettiest woman in the world (but for real), that she’s an extremely hard worker, that she loves gardening, loves watching thunderstorms, and loves animals as much as St. Francis of Assisi (before we were married she once abandoned me on a date to rescue a lost kitten). You already know that she is a thoughtful gift giver (you have an Ewok costume waiting for you for your first Halloween), an amazing muffin-maker, and that she thinks the people on the Today Show are her friends. And of course, you know by now that she loves you more than anyone in the entire world.

But I want to tell you a few things about your mommy that you might not know. I want to tell you why I love her so much and why she will always be my best friend…

  • I used to have a lot of really bad dreams. Before we got married, I knew I could call her even in the middle of the night and she would pray for me. She did regularly. After we got married she would often read to me from the Bible or from books she knows I love. Here’s a journal entry from Nov. 2012: “I woke up in the middle of the night after having a bad dream. My sweet wife got up and read The Lord of the Rings to me until I could fall back asleep. How blessed am I? Thank you, Lord.”
  • She’s always game for an adventure. We’ve already had several wonderful camping trips in the three years we’ve been married. Your mom is always ready for a road trip (though be warned, she’s a terrible D.J.). There are few things I love more than exploring Michigan with her. Even more importantly, she’s always willing to step out in trust when we believe God is calling us on an adventure. I remember sitting next to her in church the morning we heard about a foster care opportunity through Bethany Christian Services and her eagerness to find out more about the program. Though we felt like kids ourselves, and were by far the youngest foster care parents at any of the meetings, the seven weeks spent with our first foster daughter were unforgettable. I remember thanking God countless times during the process for such an organized (there’s lots of paperwork involved), compassionate, and patient wife.
  • Your mom does way more than you know. I’m sure of this because she does way more than I know. She is always giving of herself to ensure things are just right for you and me. Even though she has about 20 more jobs than I do, she also sacrifices at home by making us wonderful food, cleaning our clothes and the house, and by picking up after the dogs (and let me tell you!). The reason you might not realize all that your mom does is because she doesn’t talk about it. She doesn’t even complain or draw attention to all her hard work!
  • One time when we were dating her little brother got sick and started puking. While I was gagging in the background, I remember her getting down on her hands and knees in the bathroom to rub his back.  Wow, I thought, she’s the kind of person you want to marry. 
  • Your mom goes out of her way to make me feel special. Our love languages are different, and yet when she found out I value words of encouragement she started putting notes in my lunch. She often writes me little messages or emails during the day to let me know she’s thinking of me. Speaking of going out of her way to show love, did I mention that she came with me for the midnight showing of Harry Potter and all three Hobbit movies?!

The truth is, while I am so so excited to be your dad, I’m also a little bit afraid. Having your mom by my side gives me so much confidence and joy for all that lies ahead for us as a family. We make a good team, and we can’t wait for you to join us.

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Gift 44 – Dangeruss Questions: …And Why Do You Want It?

Do you realize, then, what Jesus is teaching? Neither son loved the father for himself. They both were using the father for their own self-centered ends rather than loving, enjoying, and serving him for his own sake. This means that you can rebel against God and be alienated from him either by breaking his rules or by keeping them all diligently.                                                                                                          – Tim Keller about the parable of the two lost sons

Dear Daughter,

Just as important as the question, What do you want? is the one that comes next:

Why?

Several years ago I was on a school mission trip in an extremely underdeveloped region of Mexico. The organization we worked with had salvation down to a science:

  1. Draw kids over by showing them candy.
  2. Tell the gospel story.
  3. Offer candy to anyone who accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior.
  4. Tally up the number of saved kids and adjust the graph for next month’s newsletter.

I wish you could have seen the mass revival.

Okay, I’m done being snarky—obviously you see the problem. Just about every single kid “accepted Jesus” that day, because accepting Jesus meant getting a piece of candy. That’s why they did it. In fact I’m pretty sure I saw a few kids accept Jesus three or four times. Hallelujah, amen. (Nowww I’m done being snarky.)

And while this is absolutely awful and so terribly sad, is it really that much different if we were to substitute the word “heaven” for candy?   We’ve all seen the billboards: “Heaven or Hell? You chose.” And how many of us accepted Jesus for the first time when we were kids simply because we terrified of going to hell?

The problem with this—if the faith journey never develops from here—is that it’s not the same thing as loving God.*   As important as it is to know what you’re running after, it’s just as important to know why. To go along with this example, do I want God for heaven, or heaven for God? Do I really love God, or do I just want his house? If heaven had every comfort imaginable, but Jesus wasn’t there, would I be satisfied?

Asking yourself why can be scary. And I don’t just mean about heaven. Why do I work so hard to get good grades? Why do I sometimes talk bad about other people? Why do I want to share my faith? Why do I spend so much time trying to win the approval of others? Why am I a Christian? Why am I writing this blog? These questions and others might take you into deep heart-places that you’ve never been before. The key is not going alone. The psalmist prays, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

Exploring the why while offering your heart to God is like inviting Him to assess and occupy the engine room of your life. Submitting your heart with all of its furtive whys is an important step in becoming the kind of woman who loves God from the inside out.

*To be clear, I don’t think it’s the worst thing in the world for a person’s faith journey to begin here. Most relationships start because both parties think they can benefit. And yet there comes a time in a committed love relationship in which you would willingly lay down your life for the other. It’s no longer about loving the other for yourself, but about loving the other for the other.

Gift 43 – Dangeruss Questions: What do you want?

It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.                                                                                      – C.S. Lewis

My Dear Daughter,

I want to begin this series of notes with one of the most important question you will ever be asked: What do you want?

I remember a short story I once edited as an English teacher. The story, written by a young female student, was all about a freshman girl who wanted more than anything to be invited to a party by a cute senior boy. I was so sure a redeeming moral would shine through on the last page, when the character would realize that there is more to life than high school parties and cute boys.

But nope. That part never came. The story ended with the cute boy finally noticing the main character and asking her to the big party. She went and had a wonderful time. The end.

I wrote a little comment at the bottom of the page: As a reader, I don’t care about your character because she’s driven by such a superficial desire. She wants too little.

See, a character is what he or she wants. To a large degree a person’s motivation = their identity. What you desire deep down fundamentally drives the decisions you make, the ideas you value, and the things you pursue. What you desire is what you become.

You are what you want. So what’s underneath the things you do and say? What’s your motivation?

I so look forward to having this conversation with you someday when you’re old enough to wrestle with your own heart. I will give you a piece of paper and a pencil, and time to think. And when you’ve written down just what it is that you really want, I’ll ask you one more question:

Is it enough?

Gift 42 – Confession

Daughter,

Confession is a gift, a way of setting yourself before God’s holiness for untangling.  John the Baptist calls us to “keep with repentance.” In part, I believe this means inviting the posture of confession into every act and attitude so that the seed of God’s Word may send its roots down deep into well-tilled soil.

I scribbled a short confession last night after spending a few hours learning from an Anglican priest.  He spoke a lot about “the rule of life” and demonstrated a powerful focused-ness on Christ, as though he was just a spoke revolving around a center.  Being exposed to this kind of life stung like salt water in an open cut.  The prayer below was the result of the healthy stinging.

I pray that you would learn to love confession as a way of opening your little hands to the grace of God.

God,

I confess my idolatrous pace,
my resistance to Your rhythms,
my tangled heart and mind.
 
You want to speak; I say You’ll have to yell over the crowd.
You want to move; I am not good at this dancing.
You want to heal; I desperately cover the wound.
 
I fear You have become a footnote in my day, and therefore my days, and therefore my life.
I fear You have become a heartless habit before meals, a line before bed.
I fear You are one of many tabs.
 
You say to take off my shoes, but I know nothing of Sacred.
You say to receive, but I am too production-oriented for Your Sabbath gifts.
You say to speak, but I still microwave my prayers.
 
But I have seen You in Your sanctuary
and beheld Your power and Your glory.
Because Your love is better than life,
my lips will glorify You.

Gift 41 – Homeschool Watch (2)

piano

Hopefully I’ll be able to explain this one sufficiently.

On the surface it seemed common enough, a mother invited her 4 or 5-year-old daughter to sit with her on the piano bench as she played for the evening service at a local church. At one point the child’s little fingers arched over the keys to join her mom in playing the song, “Oh How I Love Jesus.”

Oh, how I love Jesus,
Oh, how I love Jesus,
Oh, how I love Jesus,
Because he first loved me!

The notes sang from the piano with a practiced pride. To everyone else this was a cute little performance, but the little girl’s expression made it clear that it was so much more for her—she got to play the piano with mommy in front of everyone.

Why is this “homeschool moment” such a big deal? Honestly, I’m not completely sure, but watching it happen I know that it was. Maybe it has something to do with the hours of practice that went into the twelve or so simple notes of the song. Or maybe it was the modest act of a mom allowing her daughter to join in making music. Or maybe it was the living picture of the song’s few words brought to life by a little set of hands next to a bigger set of hands playing, “Oh, how I love Jesus” over and over. Whatever the case, as the mom deliberately slowed her pace so her daughter could take the lead, “Oh how I love Jesus, because he first loved me,” I knew I was witnessing one of the most beautiful pictures of Christian education I’ve seen in a long time.

Gift 40 – Homeschool Watch (1)

In preparation for parenthood I’ve been trying to “tune in” to the homeschooling happening around me.   I don’t mean “homeschooling” as we often think of the word, rather, the underneath lessons parents are teaching their children everyday through their words, habits, actions, attitudes, etc.   Research continually points to inescapable fact that parents are the biggest shapers of their child’s identity—in short, they’re the most important teachers.   So if this easily missed homeschool curriculum is unfolding in every car ride, conflict and conversation, what exactly is being taught? I will be retelling the stories of the very best homeschooling examples as I see them…

As I drove to school one morning I saw that someone had rearranged the letters on the church sign right across from the Holland Christian parking lot. Some neighborhood kids must have thought it would be funny to write something inappropriate and unashamedly offensive. Two cars in front of me, a sliver minivan slowed before pulling into the church parking lot. I watched as a woman and her middle school son got out of the vehicle, walked over to the sign, and together changed the words back to the original message.

Talk about a powerful homeschool lesson. Maybe this mom was intentionally teaching her son in this moment, but more likely she was just doing a small act that needed to be done and invited her son to join along. Either way, what I was seeing went far beyond changing the words on a church sign.   This mom was showing her son that when you see something wrong, something that hurts others, you don’t just drive by. We don’t merely shake our heads and talk about how wrong or upsetting something is, but we get out of the car. What an attitude to have towards injustices both locally and globally, worldwide and close to home.  Though probably unaware of the significance, this young man was receiving an incredible education before the school day even started.

Stay tuned for more homeschool lessons coming soon!

Gift 39 – My Dear Little Dangeruss Girl

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I’M SO EXCITED TO MEET YOU, LITTLE LADY!!!!

We had our ultrasound this evening; I didn’t blink the whole forty minutes.

You are beautiful.  Wonderful, amazing, incredible.  And I love you like crazy.  The nurse couldn’t tell if you were a boy or a girl because of the way you were lying, so I talked to you and asked if you could please wiggle around just a bit, and you did 🙂  Daddy’s girl already.  It’s funny how much pride I feel being your dad, and I’ve only just seen you on the hospital screen.  My heart is so full.  I’m praying, right now, for you to grow into a dangerous little girl who loves the Lord with all her heart.  You have mine, already.  See you soon, little peach.

In the meantime, your mamma has already purchased about a hundred little dresses and hats and PJs.  Everyone has been so thrilled to hear that a little girl will be joining our family in July.  Everyone except your cousin Gabe, that is.  He was pretty devastated when he heard the news.

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