A Better Way to Look at Things (Though I Hate to Admit It)

In a post attributed to youth pastor and father Alex Cravens, some thoughts were shared that helped me, as a dad, in my struggle with the current state of life in America. I mean this especially in relation to all of the virus-related challenges and restrictions we’ve faced over the past 10 months or so. Honestly, the most difficult part (by far) has been the negative impact of the pandemic on my children. They, like countless others, have lost too many important things and my heart has broken for them over and over again. Graduating from college and getting married (my son) and graduating from high school and middle school (my two daughters) were events that looked much different—not in a good way—than they should have, simply because they happened in the year 2020. And those momentous life events are just a few examples of the losses that overwhelmed me with sadness for my kids. It even reached the point, at least in my darker moments, where I actually felt guilty for bringing them into this world with all of its pain and troubles and disappointments.
And then I read the aforementioned words from that other dad, Mr. Cravens. I felt a little irritated at first because, frankly, I don’t always want to look at the bright side and remain optimistic when life hurts my kids. I’d rather be bitter and wallow in the misery of feeling terrible for my favorite young people on the planet. But the author’s words grabbed me, nonetheless, and reminded me that there is, in fact, a better way to look at things, as much as I hate to admit it. Grr… He wrote, “Don’t feel sorry for or fear for your kids because the world they are going to grow up in is not what it used to be. God created them and called them for the exact moment in time that they’re in. Their life wasn’t a coincidence or an accident.”
The post goes on to encourage us as parents to empower our kids to know they can change the world, which inspires them to live hopefully instead of fearfully. We’re also challenged not to let our fear steal the greatness that God has placed in our children.
As has often been the case, God used my kids (and another parent) to teach me a valuable lesson. I’ll save the details for another time, but I even believe that God worked through my future children to reach me and my wife before they were born. Right now, God is teaching me it’s no accident that my kids are where they are, because He has uniquely prepared them to accomplish goals only they can achieve. He has indeed placed greatness in them and they are equipped to handle the present challenges in ways I can scarcely imagine. God has my kids in this time and place for a reason, and I can’t wait to see what it is.
For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this? (Esther 4:14).
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 8:28)
Troy Burns

Been There and Done That

It’s my birthday today; I only mention that because I really want a lot of people to call me, and to text me, and perhaps even to send a little gift my way. I’m joking, of course (well, mostly)! The real reason I bring up this day is that Christmas is around the corner (it’s December, after all), so my thoughts are shifting toward the fact that I entered this world at a specific time, in a specific place. At 2:43 a.m., on December 1, in the Madigan Army Medical Center at Fort Lewis, WA, I made my physical entry onto this planet.
Why do Christmas and December influence my thoughts like this? Because God Himself also entered this world at a specific time, in a specific place, but with a much greater purpose than anything I could accomplish. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us (John 1:1, 14a).
God became flesh; He lived a perfect life; He suffered all of the trials and temptations that all people face; He died on a cross to pay the penalty for our sins; and He rose from the dead to make possible our salvation and the hope of eternity in heaven. One specific benefit to our day-to-day lives is that God Himself experienced every type of trial and temptation we might face. No matter what we’ve gone through—or are going through—Jesus has “been there and done that.”
Our wonderful elder, Bud, was kind enough to jump in and preach for me this past Sunday, due to a virus exposure in my family. One story I was planning to share lines up with our discussion here. Just about five weeks after our first child, our son, Nolan, was born, he became very ill and lethargic and developed a high fever, so my wife, Kelly called me at work to tell me she was taking him in to see the doctor. About 45 minutes later, she called me again and said I needed to come to the doctor’s office right away, and that they were extremely concerned about his symptoms. A few minutes after I arrived, the doctor informed us that our little guy needed to go to the hospital, and that the safest way to get him there was by ambulance, since he already had a few tubes and wires connected to him, and they needed to closely monitor him while he was being transported. Kelly rode in the ambulance with him and I followed them in our car. Kelly would talk for years about the sad, scared, defeated look I had on my face, which was flushed of any color, as I drove behind them to get to the hospital. They admitted Nolan to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and he had even more tubes and wires connected to him. That was surreal and shocking and frightening to see my first and only son, just a five-week-old baby, lying in a hospital bed, attached to all of that medical equipment, with doctors and nurses checking on him and poking and prodding on a regular basis. For two to three days, the doctors could not figure out what was going on, and they could not tell us if he was going to get better or not.
Needless to say, that was an incredibly difficult experience to go through and we were beside ourselves with worry. I’m not sure I’ve ever prayed as intensely as I did during those 48-72 hours. He survived and recovered; they never did quite figure it out other than to give their best guess that some type of virus hit him really hard. Here’s why I share all of that: As time went on, I actually went back to the Pediatric ICU and also to the Neonatal ICU (for very sick and premature newborn infants), but in those cases I went to visit someone else whose children had been admitted there. It was quite an experience trying to help and comfort others who were going through what I had gone through myself. The nurses and other staff members in those units were the closest thing to angels that I’ve seen in my life, and as one person said it, that’s the part of the hospital where God hangs out.
My own suffering allowed me to speak with credibility to other people in pain because I had been in their shoes. I had “been there and done that.” I had walked the road they were now having to walk. When I would talk, other broken people would listen because what I said, and what I did, carried weight, not because I’m anything special, but because I had been through the same type of experience they were now dealing with.
When it comes to Jesus, He can do this very thing for us in any and every situation we might face in this life. Once again, He’s “been there and done that.” For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin (Hebrews 4:15).
Troy Burns

On Bike Rides and Listening to God

It’s easy to live with the mindset that I’d better obey God, or else. I don’t want to go to hell, so I need to do what God says is right, and avoid what He says is wrong. This works for a while, until my desire to live my own way overwhelms my efforts to go along with God’s instructions. At some point, I’m not as motivated by fear or the negative outcomes of living life my way. But what if there’s a different mindset that allows me to rise above all of that? What if there are positive consequences of my obedience, as though God might actually want the best for me? What if there’s an incredible reward for seeking and following my Creator?
During my early grade school years, my mother would not allow me to ride my bike in the street. I really wanted to ride in the street, what with its smooth surface and open space to ride fast and far, but I (almost) always stayed out of the street because mom said, “No.” Riding in the street would have given me incredible, though temporary, pleasure. It would also have put me in danger and caused my mom to take away my bike for a very, very long time. It came down to my way or mom’s way, what I wanted versus what she wanted. I avoided the street because I feared the negative consequences, but more important than the fear that motivated me less and less, I trusted that my mom loved me, and cared about me, and wanted what was best for me.
As an adult and a dad who’s raised his own kids, I see more clearly the importance of kids listening to their parents. As a child of God, I’m learning everyday about the immense value of listening to my Father in Heaven. God tells me to do something (or not to do something), and I often want to disobey, but I (almost) always follow God because He has told me what to do (or not to do). Taking my own path would provide me with incredible, though temporary, pleasure. It would also put my soul in danger and cause me to experience some very negative results. It comes down to my way or God’s way, what I want versus what He wants. I strive to listen to God because I fear the negative consequences, but more important than the fear that motivates me less and less, I trust that God loves me, and cares about me, and wants what’s best for me.
Having a genuine faith in God is to believe Him in every area of my life. While I still fail more often than I’d like to admit, I do my best to obey because I trust Him, even though I might not completely understand what He’s doing in my life. On a deeper level, I have a genuine faith because that’s the only way I can please Him, and because He rewards me when I trust Him and seek Him.
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen… And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.
– Hebrews 11:1, 6 (NASB)
Troy Burns

Yes, I Want That, But…

One Sunday in early August, I presented a message discussing the phrase, “Let go and let God,” with a focus on how we typically take those words to mean that if we turn our troubles over to God, He will take care of things. The hard part, at least for me, is that I try to pass the baton to Him and it falls to the ground with a big clunk. Knowing that I tend to fail in this way, I also shared from an article whose author suggested a new way to understand the idea of letting go and letting God: “Let go (of the outcome you desire), and let God (bring about His will).”
I wonder how this approach might improve my prayer life. I’ve come to realize that it’s okay for me to be honest with God about what I want, but that I also need to leave the outcome of my prayers to Him, even (or especially) if that outcome is different from what I would prefer. I guess it boils down to this: Do I want my life to align with God’s will more than I want to fulfill my own desires? Isn’t that the essence of faith when the rubber meets the road? Don’t I need to trust that God’s ways are better than mine?
Never was this type of genuine, albeit difficult faith lived out so successfully as when Jesus was about to be arrested, mocked, beaten, and nailed to a cross to die an unthinkable, excruciating death. At that moment, He prayed to God, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). He essentially asked God if there was any other way to pay the penalty for people’s sins, if there was somehow a different path that would keep Him from facing what He was about to suffer. Jesus was honest with God about what He wanted; it was not His desire or preference to experience infinite pain and suffering, at least not on a human level. However, Jesus decided to leave the outcome of His prayers to God. He chose to put God’s will ahead of His own, no matter what. None of us will ever go through anything close to what Jesus endured, yet He still said He wanted to do it God’s way, not His own.
One definition of prayer is the alignment of our souls with God. This means that in prayer, our desires can become more like God’s desires, and we can align our wills with the will of God. It also means that prayer is not about making the things we selfishly want happen; it’s about making us want what God wants. Then our spiritual lives become really exciting as our desires are more and more in line with God’s. When Jesus aligned His will with God’s, He went through something absolutely horrific, and He saved the world.
Troy Burns

Goodbye for Now

And so it begins… My emotions and dramatic behavior are beginning to spin out of control. Well, I take that back. It actually began on March 2, 2002, when my first daughter entered this world and stole my heart. My most recent emotional breakdown, however, stems from her moving to Arizona this coming weekend as she embarks on her college adventure.
It’s hitting me that I will no longer do so many little things for her that I’ve always done. I often make her iced coffees with vanilla almond milk and French vanilla creamer. Last weekend, I bought a container of almond milk, so she would have enough for this week, but then it occurred to me that it was the last almond milk I will buy for a long time. The same is true of the multigrain bread and avocados I bought so she can make her favorite breakfast meal for one more week.
My wife is making it worse, although she’s as sad as I am (almost). Last night, she said, “Aw, this is our last Monday evening dinner with her.” Tonight, I expect her to say the same thing about our Tuesday meal. When our daughter was young, we enjoyed celebrating so many “firsts” with her; now, we must deal with the “lasts.”
I walk through her room and it’s getting emptier. Many pieces of clothing are no longer on hangers. More and more luggage is packed and sitting on her floor, waiting to leave with her. Bins full of dorm room supplies are gathered and waiting in similar fashion. I just asked my younger daughter if she’s going to take care of me, since she’s soon to be our only child remaining at home.
What will help me (hopefully) get through this is the same thing that helped me three years ago, when our son, our firstborn child, left home and moved far away to attend college. What allows me to hang on is related to some wise thoughts from a blogger and author named Kami Gilmour, who wrote a book entitled, Release My Grip: Hope for a Parent’s Heart as Kids Leave the Nest and Learn to Fly. In her book, she shares a prayer in which she asked God to keep her from expressing too much extreme emotion, because she wanted her child to know that she was more proud than sad, and that she was more excited than afraid about what was next.
I think that’s the secret to surviving our kids leaving the nest. In what to me is the most helpful statement from her book, she writes this: “Be fully present to support them and look forward to the future through the lens of their life, not backward through the lens of my life.” I need to avoid being so preoccupied by mourning what I’m “losing” that I neglect to focus on how exciting this new phase of life will be for my daughter. This is especially true when she already lost so many things as a graduating senior in the year of COVID. This season is about her, not about me.
I’m in awe of God, who gave me the honor and the privilege of raising this young lady. And I know that while life is changing drastically, she won’t be gone forever. It’s a new phase of parenthood, with lots of coming and going, of saying “goodbye for now” and “welcome home” again and again. Nothing will separate her from my love or God’s love. To quote Gilmour once more, “He still holds her in the palm of His hand even though she’s let go of mine.”
Troy Burns

It Just So Happens…

Serendipity: The occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way; an unplanned fortunate discovery.
“I’m so glad I just happened to run into you at the store! I was having a terrible day and you gave me exactly the encouragement I needed. Or did I just happen to run into you?
“That was a horrific accident; if I would have left your house when I was planning to leave, I would have driven into that intersection right at the time of the accident, but I just happened to miss it.” Or did I just happen to miss it?
“30 years ago, I was visiting my mom in the hospital and just happened to meet a young lady she befriended who, over the course of various events, would become my wife two years later.” Or did I just happen to meet that young lady?
In Luke chapter 10, a lawyer asks Jesus a question that He answers with the parable of the Good Samaritan. The lawyer’s question was, “Who is my neighbor?” As part of the parable, Jesus shares the following: 31 “A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side” (Luke 10:31). In that verse, the word happened (also translated chance or coincidence), comes from the Greek word synkyrian, which is a combination of two words: sun and kurios. Sun means “together with,” and kurios means “supreme in authority.” So biblically, the word happened (or chance or coincidence) can be understood as, “what occurs together by God’s providential arrangement of circumstances.”
Did I just happen to run into an old friend? Did I just happen to miss that horrible accident? Did I just happen to meet my future wife because she knew my mom in the hospital? What appears to be random chance could actually point to the oversight of God, who tells us, “Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Luke 12:7). What I used to think of as serendipity could very well be the handiwork of God, who makes it clear that He’s in charge of everything:
I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. 10 I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.’ 11 From the east I summon a bird of prey; from a far-off land, a man to fulfill my purpose. What I have said, that I will bring about; what I have planned, that I will do. (Isaiah 46:9-11)
When I experience unexpected events or I run into someone completely by surprise, my first reaction might be, “What a coincidence.” But just because I am surprised does not mean that God is. In fact, He promised that, “in all things [He] works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). In ways known only to God, He takes those things that “just happened”—those chance meetings and coincidences, those surprise circumstances, and even my mistakes and unplanned events—and brings them together to fulfill His purposes.
Troy Burns

I’ll Never Pass That Way Again

Just for a moment I was back at school
And felt that old familiar pain
And, as I turned to make my way back home
The snow turned into rain
“Same Old Lang Syne” – Dan Fogelberg
Some memories cause pain due to the terrible things remembered; others hurt deeply, not because of the memories themselves (of things that were wonderful at the time), but because they will never happen again. For example, my memory of playing baseball with my young son causes me pain not because I didn’t love playing ball with him (I certainly did), but because he’s grown up and those times are lost and gone forever.
With one child graduating from college in a few months, and another one beginning her university adventure in a few weeks, I’ve come to realize (if not accept) that parenting involves loss. Some things are lost and gone forever. The adult child-parent relationship is incredible in many ways, but there’s also a loss of what I once had, making it clear that life will never be the same again. For all of the many struggles and challenges of raising kids, my toughest dad moment was undoubtedly walking out of my son’s dorm room in Phoenix after moving him in to start his first experience away from home. I literally walked from one life to another, knowing I would never pass that way again.
Since I’m writing this blog for our church website, I need to find some spiritual insight from all of this reminiscing and grieving over things that are no more. Maybe it’s this: as followers of Jesus, we can look forward to the time when we will live forever in a new heaven and a new earth, where God “will wipe every tear from [our] eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4). When I think about my kids, especially in their younger years, I’m pained by the things that are lost, that have passed away. But if there’s one thing I don’t mind passing away, it’s “the old order of things.” When that day comes, I’ll have nothing to mourn, no pain to feel, and no tears to shed. Knowing this paradise with God is promised, I have to believe that a day is coming when my painful memories will never hurt me again.
Troy Burns

I Can Wait (and Wait)

As a high school freshman, too young for a driver’s license and too old to grow up in a cell phone generation, I would wait (and wait) for my mother to pick me up from sports practices. Rarely could we set a definite pickup time since mom was always busy with five kids and I never knew exactly when my practices would end. What’s more, we could not easily call each other due to the aforementioned lack of cell phones. To complicate matters further, I would sometimes ride the activity bus if I could catch it in time, and with no ability to inform my mom of these bus trips, I forced her to wait and see if I arrived home before she knew whether or not to drive to the school and get me. On such occasions, we both waited (and waited).
I grew frustrated, even maddened, by the waiting and the eager expectation of hoping every car that rounded the corner was my mom’s. I could not understand what took her so long sometimes; answers didn’t come easy. But I never, ever doubted that she would arrive at some point. She saw more than what met the eye and her impending arrival helped me to endure those helpless feelings of being stuck and waiting (and waiting). In my mind, it was as though she could see me and hear me without being there. I felt near to my mom, so I could wait.
Those experiences and memories taught me something about waiting on God. Over the long months of dealing with the virus and its related restrictions, closures, delays, and cancellations, I’m reminded that I can wait for God if I know that He sees me and hears me. There’s so much I cannot even begin to understand; answers don’t come easy. But although God may not be there (in the sense of a tangible, physical presence), I feel near to Him, so I can wait.
As Sam (Leslie) Phillips sang in her song, Answers Don’t Come Easy:
Oh, and I can wait; it’s enough to know you can hear me now… it’s enough to feel so near you now, And when answers don’t come easy, I can wait. Mind’s eye can only see so far, and reason can only guess, but knowing you see more than what meets the eye helps me see through my helplessness.
Of course, God tells us to wait for Him and He makes incredible promises to those who do just that. So, I can wait (and wait) and it will be worth it.
Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord! (Psalm 27:14)
But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31, ESV)
Troy Burns

The Rest of the Story

During the evening hours, if I sit on the couch to watch a show with my wife, I often doze off halfway into the show (if not sooner). Then, in the middle of the night, maybe around 3:00 a.m., I wake up to use the restroom and cannot get back to sleep. How can sleep come so easily during the regular evening hours, and yet elude me in those wee hours when I’m exhausted and can barely think straight? Then there’s my son, who can get into our car and fall fast asleep before we even make it out of our neighborhood. Thankfully, this only happens when he’s a passenger, not the driver!
I know I’m only talking about sleep, but these experiences cause me to wonder about the whole concept of rest. A line from next week’s reading in the Core 52 book jumped out at me: “It’s senseless to thank God for the job we have but not rest on the Sabbath when He promised it would increase our productivity.” As my family would attest, I have trouble just sitting still for a minute, let alone truly resting. Life is typically so busy that when I have an hour or two of downtime, I don’t feel grateful as much as guilty. How in the world can I devote an entire day of every week to rest? And is it really possible that I will get more done in six days of work than seven?
Many of us have no time for the things that matter the most, and that means we’ll never find rest for our souls. I’m sure God did not need rest, but He took a day off, anyway. Here’s what the Bible says about that: “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done” (Genesis 2:2-3).
To be a little corny, you could say that’s the “rest of the story” of creation. God did not rest because He was exhausted; He rested to celebrate His creation and to put in place the principle of the Sabbath. This means that creation’s greatest productivity is within a cycle that includes rest. That’s the answer to my question of whether it’s possible to get more done in six days of work than seven. It may or may not help me sleep, but it will certainly focus my mind and heart on what matters the most, which will then lead to rest for my soul.
Troy Burns

Jumping Kids and Waiting Dads

One of my favorite memories is when my young children demonstrated a complete, unquestioning trust in their dad. My son, as a small toddler, walked out onto a diving board with his swim instructor and jumped into the water where I was waiting to catch him in my arms. My older daughter did a similar thing when she climbed several stairs and jumped down to me. Had my kids focused on anything else besides their dad, they would have lost faith and likely would not have jumped. But they were willing to take those leaps for one reason: they knew without a doubt their dad would catch them.
I always think of this when I read the passage in Matthew chapter 18, where Jesus is asked who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, and He responds in this way: “He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven’” (Matthew 18:2-3).
Young children trust their parents completely, unless and until something breaks that trust. I want to live out that childlike faith in God, even if it’s difficult to do in any other aspect of life. I especially want this because so many things are uncertain. I hate that nothing is really ever for sure. I want to know for certain, every day, that I will live another day, and that my wife will be there with me every day, and that my kids will come home safely each and every night. But while I know these things are likely, I also know they’re not for sure.
In our current world situation, things are even more uncertain than normal. Not only is the virus a great unknown in many respects, but the related precautions, rules, and restrictions make it difficult to count on much of anything. To paraphrase an old saying, the only thing that’s for sure is that nothing is for sure.
Much of this life troubles me, scares me, and makes me realize how uncertain everything is. If I focus on anything besides my Dad, I’ll lose my faith. But God is my Father just like I am my children’s father. So, I still want to jump into His arms because I know He will catch me.
Troy Burns