He is in the Rain

I’m sitting in my comfy chair in my room watching rain fall lazily onto my back yard. In Florida you never know how long the rain will last, but it’s typically not long at all. A light rain can turn into a deluge within minutes and then sunshine soon returns. In fact, in can be raining on my side of the street and not in my neighbor’s yard just feet away!

Moving to Florida brought new meaning to “scattered showers.” In the DC area where I spent most of my life, rain coming usually meant you were in it for the day…or week. Scattered showers typically still meant long periods of clouds and rain as far as the eye could see. Florida is different. Yesterday I was driving in the bright sunshine and suddenly I drove into pelting rain that lasted for only a matter of seconds. I’ve lived here for over 13 years and this still catches me by surprise.

In the short time it’s taken me to type these words the rain has stopped. Oh well. I missed the opportunity to set some plants out….

Aren’t our lives a little like the weather?

Sometimes gloom comes on suddenly and we’re surprised by wind and pelting rain. What just happened? Perhaps it was a phone call that left us reeling from a poor health diagnosis about us or someone we love. Or maybe a sudden job loss, exposure of sexual sin with a young adult child or weighty conflict with someone close leaves us feeling discouraged or despairing. The suddenness of the downpour only adds to the disorientation of the information we just received. Bad news falls hard on the unsuspecting heart.

Other times we see storm clouds gathering and have time to prepare for the deluge.

Growing marital strife warns that things between us and our spouse are becoming more serious. An x-ray reveals that haunting suspicions over time about strange symptoms have a cause. The “gut feeling” we’ve had that something just wasn’t right with one of our kids makes sense when we happen upon their recent online activity. But even seeing storms on the way don’t make them easier because watching dark clouds building can bring foreboding anxieties about what’s coming.

And then there are those times when the sun is out and life is pretty much going well. When sudden rain falls it’s easy to just smile and enjoy it. Florida living introduced me to the whimsy experience of driving when the sun is brightly shining and shimmers of dancing droplets play on my car windshield for a minute or two. It’s easier to handle unexpected challenges in our lives when they come when all is otherwise well.

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Is it raining in your life? If so, has it been dark and gloomy for a long time, leaving you weary and fighting for hope? Or are you worried that circumstances or relationships are brewing to bring trials that test your faith? Perhaps your life is pretty pleasant right now as spurts of challenges come and go in your otherwise happy days of relative sunshine?

However the rain is falling for you, I want you to know I’m there. Over the past year or so I’ve experienced all three of those scenarios. Sometimes I feel the darkness closing in and wonder if the sun will shine again. Other days I’m able to see the clouds gathering ahead and am able grab onto my spiritual umbrella. And then there are days when my heart is light and the Son is shining brightly while I deal with the normal challenges of every day life.

The good thing about rain is that it never lasts forever. It comes…and goes. It has a purpose. For me, the rain that been falling has been softening my heart to know and love God more. When it’s dark I can tell myself, “It won’t be dark forever. The sun is right there behind the clouds. Lord, help me to endure.” As my heart softens I sense His nearness and know that He is planting tender seeds in my heart that require both rain and sun. Believe me, this is something that I have to remind myself regularly. Otherwise I easily fall into hopelessness and believing the lie that it will never be sunny again.

God measures the rain in our lives. Even when it seems flood waters are rising and we fear we might be swept away, He governs each drop that falls. If we’re swept away, it will be into His outstretched, safe arms.

Is your heart dry and hard? Then pray for rain.

Are you being pelted by a painful deluge? Then pray for strength.

Do you see clouds gathering? Then pray for God to prepare your heart to endure with faith.

Is the sun shining? Then pray for gratitude.

And always remember, He is in the rain.

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Borrowed Trouble

Aside

She stood shaking on the side of the pool. At age ten, she desperately wanted to learn to dive. But each time she tried she ended up looking like a pretzel falling into the water. Head pointing down but feet curled up in a cannon ball-like pose, poor Jaime just couldn’t do it.

It didn’t matter how many times her dad and I tried to coerce her or how often we gently put her into the right position. She just couldn’t overcome the fear of letting herself fall into the water without the reflex to protect herself. Poor thing. She couldn’t even explain what she was afraid of!

Summer after summer she tried again. And again. Suddenly it happened. In her early 20’s she dove into the pool. Her shocked family clapped and cheered. She acted like she’d been doing it for years.

Sometimes we don’t know why we’re unable to do something. We’re afraid of something — and don’t know what it is. Self-protective reflexes kick in: defenses; withholding honest information about what we’re going through; fear of being hurt (again); unconfessed sin; anxious thoughts about being misunderstood.

The puritans used to call it “borrowing trouble.”

Jaime watched person after person dive into the pool without cracking their head open on the bottom of the pool or drowning. Time and time again she played Marco Polo without being able to get into the pool quickly like her siblings and friends. She felt uncoordinated — even though she tore it up on the basketball court. There was something, though, that made her fearful of thrusting herself head first into the pool. Something irrational but nevertheless real.

I’ve been borrowing trouble recently. And trouble isn’t worth borrowing. The Bible says today has “enough troubles of its own” — so why borrow more from the future? Why reach into an unknown future, whether days or weeks or years ahead, and borrow things that may not even happen? And even if the trouble we think may come does in fact happen, tomorrow’s grace and help can’t be borrowed either. Today has it’s own trouble and grace.

What Jaime didn’t know was that one day she would get the courage to go head first into the water. Once she did it, the anxiety would be replaced with joy…and she can now assure her kids that there is really nothing to fear.

Are you facing something or someone that is tempting you to be afraid? Do you find yourself borrowing trouble from an unknown, uncertain future? Is there a refreshing pool of water in front of you that you can’t enjoy because you’re afraid to dive in?

No worries. No amount of coercing from yourself or others is going to help you. The only thing that will help is your decision to just go for it and trust God to let you experience the joy that courage brings.

More on that next time.

If I Don’t Worry, Who Will?

I have a love – hate relationship with Facebook. I enjoy the picture part. As a photography hobbyist I enjoying sharing pictures (especially of my eleven Little People) and seeing pics of others kids and grandkids. I also enjoy the quote part. It seems that God repeatedly uses quotes people post to be just what I need on a given day.

Anyone who knows me well knows I love Charles Spurgeon. I’m sure I would have been one of the thousands of recipients of his pastoral care and anointed preaching at the Metropolitan Tabernacle if I had lived in England in the late 1800’s. I’m grateful that the internet provides access to the sermons of lots of dead guys, including him.

Here’s the quote that ministered to my heart yesterday:

“In the multitude of my anxieties within me, Your comforts delight my soul” (Ps. 94:19) Turn your eyes to the deep things of God. Cease from an anxious consideration of seen things, which are temporary, and gaze by faith on the things that are eternal. Remember, your way is ordered by a higher power than your will and choice. The eternal God has fixed your every step. All things are fixed by the Father’s hand. He who loved us from before the foundations of the world has immutably determined every step of our pilgrimage. It is a blessed thing, after you have been muddling and meddling with your anxieties, to throw your burdens on the Lord and leave them there.”

Like me, are there things weighing on your heart today?

  • Financial worries.
  • Tension in your marriage.
  • Anxieties about a wayward young adult.
  • Health concerns.
  • Spiritual drift in your heart that leaves you wondering if God cares.
  • Discouragement over years of unplanned singleness.
  • Strife between your children.

I’m worried about some stuff, too. Sometimes the “be anxious for nothing” warning in Philippians 4:6 is not only elusive but can also feel a tad simplistic. Do you know what I mean? The commands of scripture can seem  like putting a bandaid on a deep wound; it’s just not easy to stop worrying when something heavy is weighing on your heart and mind. “Don’t be anxious” feels like a denial of reality.

“If I don’t worry, who will????”

Yet Mr. Spurgeon is right! And I’ve been doing some muddling and meddling  with my anxieties. After awhile of splashing around in the mud of cares tempting me to doubt God’s love and control I’ve decided (with His help, of course) to throw my burdens on the Lord. After several days of meddling in God’s business of controlling the universe (including my little part of it) He’s helping me to agree that He is fully capable to keeping things from spinning out of control, even though it feels to me at times that need to take charge.

I love Spurgeon’s choice of words. I’m not just “casting” my worries onto Him gently, like a fisherman casts his line into the water. But throwing them on Him forcefully, like a quarterback heaves the ball with all his might to a waiting receiver.

Are a multitude of anxieties pulling at your heart? Join me today in remembering that the God who has been and always will be is superintending every thing that happens. He’s the same God who then “causes all things to work together for good.”

And He loves us.

God is His Own Interpreter

Today I’m thinking of all of you moms who are weary and wondering if your efforts are going to produce the fruit for which you long.

Are questions like these swirling in your heart?

  • Will my sacrifices ever be noticed and appreciated?
  • If God is sovereign and in control of everything, why pray or keep working so hard to invest my life into them?
  • When will they understand that my correction of them is deeply rooted in love?
  • On what roads might they be willing to walk before Christ becomes their all in all?

Please remind yourself today that your efforts do matter. Your sacrifices will not be in vain. Even when you are unappreciated or misunderstood by the people you love most in the world, you are not alone and your hard work is noticed. Valued. Applauded.

By the only One that truly matters.

Last night I heard a message by Ligon Duncan for pastors and their wives battling discouragement in the ministry.  Using the lives of three men in scripture, including Paul, he exhorted us to resist the temptation to feel alone. From some of Paul’s final inspired words recorded in scripture we learn that everyone deserted him in his final days — “But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me” (2 Timothy 4:17).

The Lord is with you. The Lord is strengthening you. Even when it seems like your investment isn’t yielding the fruit for which you have prayed and longed, God is faithful. God is near. God will give you strength to keep honoring Him with your life.

And whatever you are walking through as a parent, there is One who has experienced every heartache; every perplexity; every sorrow; every awareness of being rejected by those you love.

You are being like Him. And He is praying for and helping you even though you feel weak and tired. He knows just what you are walking through and is seated at the right hand of God seeing all the good that will come from your faith-inspired, God-empowered efforts.

I pray these words from William Cowper will encourage your soul today.

God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea, And rides upon the storm.
Deep in unfathomable mines of never-failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs, And works His sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take,the clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break In blessings on your head.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast, unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste, but sweet will be the flower.
Blind unbelief is sure to err, And scan his work in vain;
God is His own interpreter, and He will make it plain.

Oh, God, we trust in You.

i.surrender.

When change comes yet again while my heart craves stability and the false security of things remaining the same, I surrender.

As the ground beneath me shifts and I can’t seem to get my footing, I surrender.

When life takes turns I didn’t plan; when I’m disoriented and perplexed and can’t find my bearings, I surrender.

Amid the swirling emotions that cause my heart to faint, my faith to waiver and my lean on Him to increase, I surrender.

When tears come without warning and I find myself longing to transport myself to a familiar past I cherish, I surrender.

As unbelief seeks to choke my heart and find treasonous rest in a bed of uncertainty about embracing God’s sovereignty, I surrender.

When storm clouds gather and I fear pelting rains will destroy embers of childlike faith in my heart, I surrender.

When disappointment looms, courage fails, fear erupts, pride charges, strength weakens and Satan accuses, I surrender.

A life of surrender beckons me to find hope in God’s unchanging character when changes come at every turn and I can’t find immediate relief. Surrendering is risky only when the one requiring it is not safe; trustworthy; wise; loving. Surrender is the response of the lesser to the one with greater strength and power; and the surrender that is required of me is to The One who also holds earth’s vast oceans in the palm of His hand.

Surrender brings peace when He is the object of my trust. And peace quiets my tempting quest to wrestle control from a benevolent Father who knows what is best.

The One who has tenderly led and cared for me thus far will see me through. Through storms and trials of various kinds He has been strong. Invincible. Tender. Faithful. Able. Near. Compassionate. Good.

And He has proven Himself as One to be trusted through it all.

I surrender again. And I will continue to surrender over and over because my life is not my own. I have been bought with a dear price. A price that warrants my full trust…trust that can only happen because the One who deserves it also empowers me to grant it.

He both requires and deserves my surrender. And He will help me once again. He always has and always will. In the end, I love His will because it has always proven His wisdom.

“Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73: 25-26)

Scared of the Dread Cloud

Before I was even fully awake yesterday morning it was there. A feeling of dread. In the midst of a season full of God’s blessings there are some hard things going on in my life.

“Why are these things bothering me so much?” I regularly ask myself. “It’s not like I or anyone in my family has a brain tumor or doesn’t have a job or is destitute. What’s wrong with me?”

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The Dread Cloud isn’t unfamiliar to me. It’s been there before. It was there at sixteen when I learned my brother Randy broke his neck in a swimming accident and would be a quadriplegic for the rest of his life, which ended up being just seven years. There when the principle called me to his office to say Dad had a heart attack and Mom was on her way to pick me up. There when both Dad and Randy died within an 8-month period. There when people I love made sinful choices that broke my heart. There when Mom was diagnosed with cancer days before we moved to Florida and remained for the 2-week period until she died. Then there for a really long time of grief and homesickness.

Dread is understandable with life hits you hard in the gut. When suffering comes from death, disease or life-altering sinful choices by those we love, dread is expected.

But what about when normal life stuff happens? Common patterns of sin in yourself and family members continue when you long for it all to stop? People don’t consistently express appreciation for your sacrifices and servanthood? A birthday makes you feel old and like life is whizzing by? A friend battling cancer is not improving as many hoped and prayed? A child is leaving for college? Ongoing health challenges leave you weary and battling discouragement? You’re facing a unexpected move that could include caring for an aging in-law? Another friend is going through weighty family issues and you’re too far away to do much to help? Concerns about the spiritual state of someone you love brings fretful temptations about what the future might hold? Changes in friendships leave you feeling lonely at times, wishing for the old days?

The paragraph you just read is what fills my Dread Cloud. But then I battle guilt that these things affect me the way they do because there’s nothing really hard going on and I have so much for which to be grateful!

The fact is life happens. As a friend told me once, “Whether our hard thing is a tumor or toddler temper tantrums, we both need God’s help.” While it’s helpful to look around and see that my trials are small compared to those of others, what isn’t helpful is to brush them off as trivial.

An author once taught me that in the heart there can be both joy and sorrow; faith and unbelief; love and bitterness…at the same time! So I can be both excited and full of gratitude that God has provided for my son to go to law school and deeply sad that he’s leaving. I can experience both intense love and gratitude for my husband and battle discouragement at things he still does that hurt me. And I can genuinely thank God for my relative health and resent that an aching foot is now added to my list of ailments.

Where our difficulties fall on a scale of bad to worse isn’t the issue. Suffering does come in degrees but every sufferer has something in common: we all need God’s help.  When He says he is “near to be broken hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Ps 34:18) He doesn’t define what causes those things. He simply says He is near and He saves.

What helped me yesterday morning was listening over and over to the timeless hymn Great is Thy Faithfulness. Being reminded that new mercies are available every single morning and rehearsing the truth of God’s endless care lifted the dread.

Then the Lord brought to mind these words, quoted by A.W. Pink in a book I love:

“Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, But trust Him for His grace,
Behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.
Ye fearful saints fresh courage take, The clouds ye so much dread,
Are rich with mercy, and shall break in blessing o’er your head.”

How kind of God to use the Dread Cloud to take me back to these faith-filled words written by someone long gone.

Has the Dread Cloud visited you, too? Are there circumstances and relationships in your life that are tempting you to wake up anxious, sad, discouraged, or uncertain about the future?

Let’s trust God that the smiling face of God, though hidden for now, will produce showers of hope and blessing in our lives because of the dreadful clouds that now loom. Without the clouds there would be no coming rain.

Wow. That means we can actually thank Him for the clouds. Even though they’re dark and scary.

I live in Florida where dark clouds gather in the late afternoon on most summer days. I’ve learned to welcome those clouds because a beautiful lightning show is about to come and needed rain is about to fall. Without the afternoon storms the fire alerts climb and our yard looks pretty sad.

We, too, need the rain. We often just don’t like the clouds. Unless God changes our perspective on the clouds. When we see them bringing refreshing blessings we’re good. But we can only have that perspective with His help.

Lord, help us to view the Dread Clouds from Your perspective. Because of the cross, we are dearly loved by a benevolent, faithful God who grants the courage to trust that the clouds over us bring good and not harm.

Let the rains of blessing come, Lord.  Until then, thank you for patiently enduring and convicting me of my unbelief. How kind You are.

P.S. You can read an article by A.W. Pink that encouraged my heart yesterday on the faithfulness of God here.

Benny’s Unnecessary Apology

Last Friday Benny and I were in the ocean making our way out to join some of our kids and grandkids on a sandbar. We went through an area where we couldn’t touch bottom and suddenly Benny dropped my hand and told me to swim.

I thought nothing of it but he later apologized. “Honey, why are you apologizing?” I asked. “Because I left you to get my footing. I’m sorry.”

I assured him there was no need for an apology. The area leading to the sandbar was relatively short and I had no concerns about “making it” there. Yet Benny was scared and the only thing that would make him feel better is planting his feet on the ocean bottom.

What was the difference between my calm and his panic? 15 years ago off the North Carolina coast he and our daughter, Janelle, nearly drowned. The first few years after his experience and hospitalization he was cautious about the ocean. But over time he has become comfortable…usually. Last week was the first time in years panic set it. The current that day was stronger than it had been all week and it just felt all too familiar.

My husband is a brave man who doesn’t mind taking risks. However, the fear and trauma of that summer day when he knew he was about to go down for the last time in the rough Outer Banks waves made him understandably vulnerable.

The thing is this: when we talked last week hours after his ocean panic he knew his fear was irrational. It was only a matter of minutes that our feet weren’t touching bottom and there were several people nearby to help if needed. In the moment, though, he wasn’t thinking clearly. He was simply having “that feeling” of urgency to feel the ground beneath his feet.

The fearful feeling was there. Period.

Trauma affects people, even years later; even when there’s no legitimate reason to be afraid, feel threatened or react defensively. But Benny wasn’t thinking rationally when the fear set in. The only thing that was going to calm his heart and mind was feeling sand under his feet.

Do you find yourself reacting irrationally to stressful situations? Perhaps bickering between friends reminds you of anxiously lying in bed as a child while listening to your parents fight.  Or maybe when a younger child is disrespectful you fear she will openly rebel like her older brother. And perhaps you rush to defend yourself because of false accusations that deeply hurt you in the past.

Yet, in the moment you don’t even realize past difficulties are affecting current responses.

It helped Benny to hear that I didn’t feel abandoned by him. It also helped to realize there was no rational explanation for his panic. Trauma goes deep and affects our reactions. It can help to understand that sometimes the reason why we respond irrationally or in exaggerated ways to situations is because whatever is happening feels like something from which we need to protect ourselves.

When this happens the good news is that God was with us the first time we felt afraid or unprotected or hurt or falsely accused. And He is with us now. What brings comfort and peace isn’t an assurance that past pain or difficulties won’t happen again. Why? Because no one can assure us we won’t be sinned against or have to go through painful things. We don’t know what the future holds, but we know Who will be there sustaining, helping and “causing all things to work together for good” (Romans 8:28).

Some things have happened in my life recently that are causing me to look back. But I don’t want to spend much time doing so. I want to look back just long enough to learn any helpful things about why I react to these situations the way I do. Then I want to quickly look forward in anticipation of God’s nearness, grace and persevering strength through whatever the future holds.

Benny was right. Putting his feet on solid ground was the only thing that would help him. But Christ Himself is the only real solid rock on which we can stand.

All other ground is sinking sand.

What Forgetting His Wedding Vows Taught Ed

I’ve been blogging some about anxiety recently and wanted to share this helpful article by Ed Welch of CCEF (Christian Counseling and Education Foundation).  It was originally published in November 2010 on their website at http://www.ccef.org.  Really good stuff.

“When crises hit, everyone needs emergency numbers, and we must know them instinctively.

For our wedding, I wrote my own wedding vows and memorized them. The practice was popular then, less so now. When it was my turn to recite my vows and promises I, of course, went completely blank. Completely. But wait. A copy of the vows was in my pocket! The problem was that my mind went completely blank. I forgot it was there (and, knowing myself, my hands were probably in my pockets). All I could do was mindlessly repeat some of the vows that Sheri had just said to me. I hope I didn’t say, “I Sheri take you Ed,” but I can’t be sure. At the end of my vows I at least had the presence of mind to say, “And there is more I will tell you, but I can’t remember it right now.” I am very grateful that the quality of the vows don’t make a wedding official. We just need to get out a barely audible, “I do,” which I did…I think.

When emotions are strong, we need emergency “numbers”—not vows usually—but Scripture. When crises hit and minds go blank, we need simple biblical truths that can penetrate the fog of nothingness or panic.

And I do mean simple. Are you memorizing some of the great passages in Romans? You are blessed. But in a crisis—fugedaboutit. All that’s left are a few phrases from Psalm 23 and John 3:16, both in the King James Version.

I remember David Powlison saying that during a hospital stay, while in significant pain, he had access to one phrase, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (Ps.46:1), and it was enough. It was both a reminder and a hope. It shaped his prayer. It was his prayer. Years of meditation in Scripture left him with an emergency number.

In my own most recent mini-crisis I was so thankful for truths that came quickly to mind. Three connected teachings became my emergency numbers:

  1. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. (1 Pet.5:7)
  2. God is good
  3. God is liberal – he gives in abundance.

I needed all of them.

I Peter 5:7 had recently replaced the biblical teaching on manna as my go-to passage. I especially needed the introduction to this verse, “Humble yourselves.” Casting our anxieties on the Lord is the fruit of walking humbly before him, and, in my own case, confessing my pride. Without that larger context, the verse is meaningful but ineffective.

“God is good.” I had been reflecting on that from a Sunday interchange, “God is good, all the time; all the time, God is good.” God’s goodness was, apparently, a big deal and I wanted to consider this attribute more carefully. Basically, I understood it to mean that God, for reasons I will never understand, is inclined to show us favor.

God’s generosity? That one was critical. My mini-crisis was such that I didn’t think I would be able to survive on the thought that God doled out grace only as needed. I had to know that he poured out his goodness so they we can’t contain or grasp it all. His style is to give until his gift spills all over everything (e.g., 2 Cor.1).

I certainly commend this three-some. The Spirit planted them deep in my heart when the emergency alarms were starting to ring. But my interest is more that every follower of Christ has his or her own passages during times of trouble.

Here is the short list of personal experiences that need emergency numbers.

  • Suffering of any kind
  • Fears
  • Anger
  • Temptations to sin

If you are in a close relationship, you also need an emergency number, which can double as a purpose statement. For example, “love more than need, love more than need.” This particular emergency number is not a specific passage but it is a faithful and succinct summary of a cluster of biblical passages on love.

The criteria for these passages are fairly simple.

There is no such thing as cheating with this one. Ask your friends or wise mentors for their passages. Feel free to shamelessly rip off their favorites. And talk about your own, so others can try what has been helpful for you.”