Talking Bird Feathers

Yesterday I just had to see the ocean. It’s been so cold in Florida (no jokes, northern friends, it’s been down into the 30’s and 40’s!) that I just needed to be reminded that in a couple of months I’ll be photographing little people on the beach again.

As Benny and I strolled down the beach I started noticing bird feathers and realized I should collect some for a science project two of my grandchildren are doing. While homeschooling some of them for their moms over the past few weeks, I learned some stuff about bird feathers, like when a feather is lost on one wing, a feather on the other wing in just about the same spot is also lost to keep the bird balanced.

This process of feather molting is a fascinating one! Here are some cool facts provided by Cornell University researchers:

  • Birds mature through seasons of molting.
  • One of the reasons for molting is when feathers get damaged beyond repair.
  • Molting frequently occurs during less stressful seasons of a bird’s life, like before migrating or after nesting.
  • Feathers are lost and new ones grow in a progression that protects the bird’s ability to fly. That’s why when a feather is lost on one wing, a commensurate feather on the other wing is also lost.

As I walked on the beach yesterday I thought this familiar passage from Matthew chapter 30:

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows (vs 29-31).

Think about it: If God so exquisitely cares for birds by making sure their wings stay balanced to fly by causing feathers to fall off in perfect order; protects them from danger by insuring that damaged feathers fall at just the right time to allow healthy ones to grow; uses “down” times in their lives to grow new feathers because of the work their little bodies exert to grow new feathers; and uses loss to insure that they mature…well…then how much more does He meticulously take care of those who are created in His very image?

You and I are worth more than birds to God. But from them we see how tenderly He cares for us.

Are you experiencing loss right now? Loss of reputation. Grief through the death of someone you love. Job or income loss. Brokenness and conflict in a treasured friendship. Lost hopes and dreams. Death of a long held dream. Recognition of personal limitations and weaknesses that leave you wondering who you are?

Life is a series of losses and gains; soaring joys and crushing disappointments; hopes and struggles; laughter and tears; cherished memories and sinking reminders. As Christ-imitators we are called to follow the One who grieved over the death of a friend but then rejoiced at his resurrection into a life characterized by both ecstatic joy and piercing suffering.

The feathers I collected on the beach yesterday reminded me that He who governs their every loss governs mine, too, because I’m worth way more than they are to the Savior who took my place on the cross to earn me a place in heaven where there will be no more loss.

Spiritual molting is to mature and help me fly, not to ground and render me ineffective. Honestly, there have been times in my life when loss seems to far outweigh growth. Know what I mean? In fact, the recent months have been one of those seasons. How wonderful to see God at work molting and protecting and preparing and loving me through losses scattered with new growth that reminds me I can still fly.

It’s good to know He keeps us balanced…even when it seems our wings are awfully bare.

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Loving the Light

Aside

Last night a group of ladies gathered at my home for a second book study meeting. I love preparing my heart and home for most any reason that involves a crowd — but knowing they were coming made my prep especially enjoyable. Our first meeting was characterized by rich fellowship, even though a few of us were meeting one another for the first time. I was anticipating another sweet time together.

I wasn’t disappointed.

As the room filled my heart warmed at the diversity in the group. There was a college aged cutie; several single adults; married women without kids; a first-time expectant mom about to deliver any day; two moms with little ones in their laps; a middle-aged wife with no children; and a couple of Granma’s like me. In a culture where segregating people by age or season of life is common and often preferred, I’m grateful that having a new little church means everything we do is necessarily…together.

My friend, Ariel, took this pic at our meeting last night. I love these women!

My friend, Ariel, took this pic at our meeting last night. I love these women!

After our first meeting two weeks ago one of the gals contacted me to ask if she could share her testimony at the next meeting. The warmth and safety she experienced at the first meeting as she listened to ladies open up about their struggles, coupled with beginning to read the book we are studying together, was opening her heart to some painful things in her life. The Lord stirred her to write down her thoughts and she felt compelled to share her musings with the group.

I was deeply affected by this desire. Why would a young woman who had met most of those in the room at our meeting for the first time want to open up painful, tender things about her life? God was clearly at work in ways I couldn’t and didn’t need to understand.

I opened the meeting last night with the plan: we would share how we were being affected by the book, pray for one another, and then hear a testimony of one of the ladies in the group. After I finished, my new friend sheepishly said, “Sheree, I’m not sure if I can do this. I just don’t know….I want to. But I don’t know if I can.”

I assured her she didn’t have to share and that just knowing she was willing to was a wonderful demonstration of God’s grace in her life. If she decided not to open up such tender parts of her life, that was completely fine.

However, as the meeting winded down she said, “No. I want to do this. I need to do this.”

The rest of our meeting was filled with holy moments. The vulnerability and humility we all witnessed was compelling. As she read her words through tears, many of us cried along with her. The pain, shame and suffering she described touched areas in our own hearts. All of us could relate to her story in some way. We all know what it’s like to fail and to be hurt by others. She was in the company of fellow broken, weak and flawed women.

And when she was done something wonderful happened. Woman after woman thanked and commended her. The risk she took to share her life with us was met with compassion and care. The gospel was on display and we were all honored to have been entrusted with such a precious gift: the gift of disclosure that wasn’t treated as exposure. (A wonderful distinction I’ve learned from friends at the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation.)

Her testimony ended with a recognition that the painful things through which she has walked, even those that were the consequences of sinful choices she made along the way, have all been used by a faithful God for good in her life. She even said that she isn’t afraid of future hardships and suffering because of all God has done through the dark times in her life.

Yes, we were on holy ground.

Do you have someone with whom you can share your story? We are all like my friend who opened her heart last night: people who have sinned, been sinned against (sometimes in vile ways) and who live in a fallen world with the resulting consequences of pain, shame, disappointment and discouragement. When we keep our “secrets” in the dark, they grow and often haunt us. When we, however, find a safe person or people to whom we can disclosure things hidden or tucked away, the light dispels the darkness and we see with new eyes.

Choosing the “right” person or people is really important. At times I have unwisely opened my heart and life to people because it felt like the right thing to do and ended up regretting my decision when their responses made me realize I spoke prematurely. Gratefully, though, God has put a few people in my life to whom I can pour out the good, bad and ugly of my past and present struggles.

The light can be a little blinding at times. We all know the feeling of needing to allow our eyes to adjust when we leave a dark room. But the warmth and clarity that only the light can bring are needed and welcomed when God provides a safe and caring place to be honest.

I’m glad my new friend found that place. And I’m glad I was there on a front row seat watching God’s amazing work in her life.

I love the light.

Who’s With You in the Mess?

Yesterday I talked about how much I hate being sad. Several women contacted me to say they were grateful that what is often the silent trial of sadness was brought into the light. They, too, are sad about unplanned singleness, relational challenges, distance from family, martial strife or ongoing struggles with weight.

It made me wonder why we’re sometimes afraid to admit we’re sad.

Is is because we will be perceived as ungrateful? Whiny? Discontent? Do we fear others will quickly point out all the things and people in our lives for which we should be thankful? Does being sad mean we are automatically ungrateful or discontent?

In short, is sadness always rooted in sin in our hearts? If not, why do we and others often rush to “fix” the sadness with reminders of God’s blessings?

I’ll be honest.  I often want to “fix” others sadness because I don’t want to face their sadness either!  Recently one of my grandchildren was crying because she had lost a treasured toy. Her sadness threw me into high gear to help her find it! When we couldn’t locate the toy I pulled her onto my lap and attempted to talk her through the disappointment and assure her it would turn up soon. No amount of words helped. She wanted that toy in her little hands…now. After a few minutes of sitting in Granma’s lap she settled down and ran off to play.

When we hurt, others don’t know what to do. They want to fix our hurt or disappointment or sense of loss by helping us to see our sin, seeking to align our thinking with biblical truth or ask us what they can do to make things better.  But sometimes we just need to be held and told that God is with us. Human “fixes” don’t really deal with the pain when what we really need is His comforting presence.

A friend and I were talking last week and I was expressing to her my craving for relief from the sadness in my life.

“What would bring you relief, Sheree?” she asked.

footage.shutterstock.com

footage.shutterstock.com

I paused. The thoughts running through my mind all surrounded a change in my circumstances: better communication between Benny and me; fewer interruptions during the day from my mother-in-law; appreciation and understanding from an in-law with whom I had a recent conflict; etc. When I shared these things with her she listened patiently but even as I talked my words seemed hallow. There was something missing. I knew comfort and hope wouldn’t really be found by God fixing my circumstances but by doing something wonderful in my heart.

My wise and caring friend empathized with my struggles but then lovingly reminded me that the relief I sought wouldn’t be genuinely found by God dealing with the stuff on the list I had just shared with her. While this would be wonderful on one hand, deeper peace would come in enjoying His help and strength in the midst of my challenging circumstances. Because the Christian life is one of various trails and difficulties  (which are, in fact, promised because of our fallen lives and world) I needed to know that the Bible also promises that Someone is with me all the way.

“Sheree, what we all need to understand is that true relief is found in God walking with us through the messes of our broken and flawed lives. That’s why Jesus came into this dark and needy world: to bring His presence here.” She went on to communicate that the temporary relief from Him fixing the current circumstances would tempt me to find my hope in man, not Him.

Over the past week her words have meandered through my thoughts, bringing me hope. I’m a fixer. I find peace in order. I don’t do well in the midst of a mess (unless it’s created by my adorable grandchildren!). My good friend helped me to see that I was looking for relief in all the wrong places.

The source of your and my relief is God Himself. Not God plus an attentive husband or obedient kids or understanding in-laws or more money or less weight or living near family or fewer interruptions in our full days. Those things may happen or they may not. But what is always true no matter what messes we find ourselves in which bring sadness or pain is this: God is with us. He is faithful, good and loving — even when hardships expose our anger, resentment, self-pity, distrust of Him or ungratefulness.

God is with us in the mess and that’s where relief can truly be found.

And here’s another comforting reminder: not only is He with us but He is patient with our wrestlings. He is at work, moving us toward hope that His past faithfulness to carry us through dark times in the past is a pledge of His present and future grace to bring us through yet again.

Cleaning up the mess might seem like the best thing that could happen in our lives right now. But another mess is just down the road because we live in a fallen world with fellow sinners; a world that is literally groaning for Jesus to return and make all things new (Romans 8:22). Our own groanings for relief can be turned to humble cries to God to help us see and experience Him in the mess.

My sadness is still coming and going. But gratefully I am more aware of God’s comforting presence in the midst of it. He is opening my eyes to see that fixing the mess is far less important than experiencing His strength, tender love and comforting guidance in the mess. He is using His word and a dear friend to counsel me and I am finding growing peace even though my circumstances aren’t changing.

There is hope.

Something I truly Hate.

I dislike numerous things but honestly, I hate being sad.

Sadness is like a thick, wet blanket that closes in on me and tempts me to feel alone. Do you know what I mean?

richpersonality.blogspot.com

richpersonality.blogspot.com

Recently several things have brought sadness to my heart. Watching a friend deal with the debilitating illness and slow death of her husband. Caring for one dear woman dealing with the shock of an unplanned but healthy pregnancy while another suffers grief from a planned pregnancy that ended in miscarriage. Walking through some challenging circumstances in my marriage. Dealing with weighty adjustments to my elderly mother-in-law moving in with us. Missing a son who is away at college (oh, so much to miss about him!). Being misunderstood by an in-law. Being acutely reminded recently of how much I miss my long-gone Mom and Dad.

Walking through this season of sadness has reminded me of how good but hard it is to have a God-tenderized heart. You see, not everyone feels things the same as others. Some people either refuse to feel because it hurts too much; many elect not to feel because they’re afraid of where the grief will take them; still others have deeply painful things that happened in their past that make sadness utterly fearful and to be avoided; and some choose to embrace sadness because..well…because there’s no way out of it but through it. A tender heart (which is only possible with God’s help) makes sadness really hurt, but it brings with it a desire to take that path through it.

My friend Ginny calls this “processing.” In the nearly two years since I’ve known her I can’t recall the number of texts or emails or Community Group conversations when she’s mentioned she was processing a sermon, Bible passage or experience. To Ginny, processing means not rushing through the grief or confusion or temptation to be overwhelmed. Rather, the goal is trusting God even when sturdy answers can’t be found.

I’ve been processing my sadness. In fact, I still am.

A friend recently compared processing to having a “psalmists mentality.” People (like me at times) who avoid taking the often leisurely path that’s required to effectively deal with the sadness or grief that comes from painful situations in our lives or the lives of those we love  shortchange the process. Jumping from the sting of sadness to the unhelpful end of premature “acceptance” of the source of our grief cuts God out of the picture.

The psalmists didn’t rush the process. Rather, they honestly poured out their hearts and complaints to God. Why was this acceptable to a holy God? Why did He respond with compassion and help? Because their desire was to work it through to an honorable end.

I used to think that complaining to God was always wrong and that the mature and biblical thing to do when faced with sadness was to stop whining and accept God’s plan. I was right. Sorta. Whining, complaining and charging God is never the godly woman’s response to pain…longterm. But God is our Father; the One to whom we can pour out our hearts —  including our perplexities and complaints and the “Lord, what are you doing” cries — when the disorientation of sadness grabs our hearts and then twists them hard.

Are you sad today? Are you or someone you love facing painful circumstances that leave you feeling like a wet blanket is leaving you alone in your sadness?

I might know a little of how you feel. What I’m certain I know, though, is that you are not alone. If you are a Christian, God is with you.  His very name is Emmanuel, which means God with us. Even if you have no one to talk to or listen to your struggles or with whom you can share this burden, He is near. One of the first things that often happens to hurting people is a feeling of isolation that either says, “No one could know how I feel” or “No one cares.”

Someone does know how you feel and does care. Sometimes we don’t feel His nearness, comfort and help, but He promises He will “never leave or forsake us.”

Never leave. Even if you feel abandoned by those who you wish were close and considerate.  Or even if you wish you could help the person you’re grieving with and feel there’s just nothing you can do but pray.

thesimpltruths.wordpress.com

thesimpltruths.wordpress.com

Never forsake. Even if you’ve been betrayed by someone you thought you could trust or have been slandered by people you assumed knew better.

I pray that your sadness will be met with the tangible, real and promised help of the only One who can truly help you even when you crave human empathy. Pour out your heart to Him. And, yes, even your complaints. He’s been hearing some of mine recently and I’m thrilled to say that He really can help. When the heart of His sons and daughters are disposed to trust and honor Him and yet we’re struggling with the sadness of life, He is ready and eager to help.

You wouldn’t be reading this blog if you didn’t have a heart to know and follow God.

I don’t know all of you who visit here but God does.  And I’m stopping to ask Him to help you now.

When Only an Embrace Will Do

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mysteryreadersinc.blogspot.com

Have you seen the youtube videos of children greeting their camo-clad father or mother upon their return from oversees military service? I have watched several through tears. Watching little ones jittering as if they need to use the bathroom while waiting for Dad or Mom to come into view, then seeing them rush with outstretched arms to a parent who own arms have longed to hold their beloved child gets me every time.

I imagine that when Dad, for example, was gone for all that time Mom tried hard to offer their child a good explanation.

  • “Daddy is working hard far away to protect and serve our country.”
  • “I know you miss Daddy, sweetie.  He’s doing a really important job and he’ll be home as soon as he can.”
  • “What does Daddy do?  Well, he fixes big tanks and trucks so people can use them to help keep others safe.”
  • “You know Daddy is a pilot, right? Well, right now he’s flying things like food and medicine to people far away who wouldn’t have those things without Daddy.”

I don’t know a single child who would understand why their Daddy or Mommy needed to be the one to do these things. What child would say, “Oh, I get it. Now it makes perfect sense why I won’t see my Dad or Mom for a year.  Thanks!”

Explanations don’t satisfy kids who miss and want their parents when only an embrace will do. A child who misses Mommy or Daddy can’t fathom any reason good enough for not having them tuck them in bed at night month after month or missing their birthday party or not being there on Christmas morning. The only thing they want is to be with Dad or Mom…now.

And that’s what their parents want, too. Seeing the beaming faces of mothers and fathers on those videos clutching their kids, often with tears streaming, fills my own heart with joy.

I’ve been thinking about how this relates to my relationship with God. You see, sometimes I think knowledge will help, especially during difficult seasons. There have been numerous times when trials or suffering left me craving an explanation.

  • “If I just knew why this was happening, I’d feel better.”
  • “God, just explain how all this is going to ‘work together for good’ (Romans 8:28) and then I’ll feel better.”
  • “So, Lord, what’s the purpose in this awfulness? Help me understand and it’ll be easier to endure.”

During challenging times it helps me to realize that knowledge isn’t what I need; I need God Himself. The answer to difficulties isn’t explanation but relationship. You see, even knowing the future good that will come “someday” isn’t all that comforting in the midst of sorrow, loneliness or disorienting circumstances. Knowing that “down the road” fruit will come from a dry and painful season doesn’t take today’s sadness and weariness away.

The only thing that makes today’s hardships lighten is the Father’s embrace.

Are you going through a tough time? Do you believe that having God sit down and explain why this is happening and the good things that will come from your pain will really help you? Consider Job. If he knew that his dead children would be “replaced” by future children, would he have said, “Oh, I get it. That makes me feel better.” No. Knowledge just begs new questions, not fresh peace.

When we Christians are hurting and craving explanations for tough times, what we need is to tangibly experience the nearness, comfort and warmth of God’s embrace. Hearts that crave knowledge bow to arms that feel welcomed and loved.

I pray you’ll find the strength to let go of the demand for explanation and knowledge and just run into your Father’s eager arms. You’ve missed Him, not answers.

When Pain Strikes

Nancy and David had a son named Matt and were joyfully expecting a baby girl.  This was before sonograms were routinely performed so they didn’t know there was a problem until her birth. The doctors were immediately concerned about Hope, and the next day a geneticist told her parents she had the metabolic disorder, Zellweger Syndrome. Imagine their heartache to learn that there were no survivors; no cure; just months of life ahead; no “hope.”

199 days later she died.

Because of the high risk of having another child with Zellwegers, David and Nancy made the very difficult decision to surgically prevent another pregnancy. Nancy started writing her book, Holding On To Hope, to bring comfort and hope to other grieving parents. As I came to page 44 last week, I read these shocking words:

“Evidently the procedure reversed itself , and today as I write, I find myself pregnant.”

Pregnant? Again? She and David hoped beyond hope that this baby, like their son Matt, would be okay. But a series of tests revealed the awful truth that their unborn son also had Zellwegers. They didn’t know Hope was sick until she was born. But from early on they knew their baby boy would have a very short and very hard life.

I finished the book yesterday. It was gripping. Nancy was painfully honest. She talked about unhelpful things people said and did during her years of suffering. She shared her despair; her why, God? questions; her frustrated desire to understand; and the reality that part of the hardness of going through difficulties is having to navigate the reactions and responses of friends and family.

Yesterday I also had the opportunity to hear Nancy speak at a conference here in Orlando on the topic of dealing with grief. I haven’t recently lost anyone close and have never held a dead baby in my arms. But I just wanted to listen to her. To benefit from her words and life. I’ve often heard “more is caught than taught” and I couldn’t miss the opportunity to catch something from a woman who has so beautifully allowed suffering and pain to produce the desire to embrace it without becoming a ball of bitterness and destructive anger.

I’m so glad I went.

Losing a baby isn’t the only way people suffer. We suffer when long held dreams or ambitions we really thought were “right” don’t look like they’ll ever happen. Children we’ve sacrificed our lives for break out hearts us with chronic ingratitude or disrespect. Co-workers gossip so they can get a leg up with the boss. Someone we’ve chosen to love forever betrays us through adultery, pornography or lust. Financial irresponsibility means we may always have to count pennies and have to give up thinking we’ll ever get ahead. Elderly parents need us to change their diapers even though they’ve forgotten who we are. The test results show the tumor got larger.

One man said, “It only takes living long enough for suffering to happen.” Hardships come to every person because we live in a broken, fallen world. Sadly, some Christians believe that real godliness and faith protects us from suffering. If we believe enough, we’ll have all the money and happiness we need because God wants to bless us, not hurt us.

But think about it. Look back on your life and think about the difficulties through which you’ve walked. Aren’t some of your greatest lessons and blessings the result of your deepest pain? That doesn’t mean you would ever want to repeat that horrific season of life and genuine faith doesn’t say, “Bring on more pain and suffering!” But the promise that “God causes all things to work together for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28) means that the disorienting perplexities of death, illness, rejection and pains of all kinds really do “work together” for good.

Our suffering isn’t meaningless or useless.

I can’t recommend Nancy’s book enough. But I have to warn you: this book is not for anyone who wants to marinade in your pain. Nancy’s solutions, forged in the fires of suffering unlike I’ve ever experienced, are full of both grace and truth. Using the life of Job in the Bible — a man who lost everything — she provides hard fought but life changing help to hurting people.

You can find Holding On To Hope here. And whether or not you ever read it, I trust that God will bring you your own special and personal hope in the midst of your suffering. If for any reason you would like to contact me personally, just leave your email in the comment section and I would be glad to reach out.

The Ultimate Blog Challenge: Day Ten

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Desperate Fatigue

One of the mothering trials that can produce desperate mothers is health concerns with our children. Watching my oldest daughter, Jaime, walk through the fear and fatigue of watching her babies suffer was one of the hardest things I have endured as a mother.

Do you have a child with health challenges or know someone who does? Whether the trials you face with a child’s illness last weeks or months or years, I pray Jaime’s story will encourage your heart. I’ve asked her to open her heart and story to you today and tomorrow.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Wyatt newborn

He was a cute and healthy newborn. But things soon changed.

Desperation in a mother’s life can have many different faces.  I have seen many of them through various circumstances and challenges I have faced in nearly 12 years of motherhood. There are two times in those years, however, when desperation tested my faith and pushed me toward God like never before….

From the first days after my second born, Wyatt, was born I knew something wasn’t right. He didn’t nurse correctly and didn’t start gaining weight. He seemed to be alarmed by every little noise.  Hours after his birth Mom flew to Texas to witness the birth of my older brother’s first child just three days later; we shared many late night long distance conversations trying to “fix” the problems.

Wyatt spent the first six months of his life screaming. He literally didn’t stop crying, would sleep in only 30 to 45-minute spurts only to wake up to start screaming again. He was diagnosed with Sensory Integration Disorder, a neurological condition that prevents the brain from properly integrating certain information received from the body’s five basic sensory systems. These sensory systems are responsible for detecting sights, sounds, smell, tastes, temperatures, pain and the position and movements of the body.  For a newborn, this meant that ANY new stimulus would send him into a frenzy for days.  One week, for example, I decided to take a huge risk and go to Target.  Bad idea. Wyatt didn’t sleep for more than 10 minutes at a time for 72 hours after that trip.

He would be quiet for minutes at a time with a passy - we had lots of them.

He would be quiet for minutes at a time with a passy – we had lots of them.

I spent six months of my life at home: shades closed, praying and playing soft music (yes, I spent some serious time on the internet looking for any possible help.) I begged God to heal him and to help me to love this fussy, demanding little boy. My frantic internet searches resulted in panic a few times when I read what his problems may have been.  I feared for his future as a man. What if he NEVER left the house!  A lot of this was somewhat irrational due to sleep deprivation, but it felt real. It was certainly real when I called my mom over and over to assure me he was okay, but mostly to sit up with him so I could get some sleep. Again.

Those months were some of the darkest of my life. First time motherhood had been a comparative breeze to the exhaustion and fear of having a sick newborn. Would he be okay? Would I give in to resentment toward God and my little son for my maternal dream of life with my daughter and son remaining a nightmare instead? And how self-pitying could I be for having to care for a sick baby when others faced much more serious situations with their children that I was walking through?

Wyatt burping

Dad was a master burper and spent many hours over the months pacing with his grandson. Such a good Papa.

Exhaustion, guilt, questioning God, and fear were stalking me daily. Night after night I tried to sleep and just when my eyes got heavy he would start to cry…again. Then the next morning 4-year-old Kayla would wake up happy and ready for a new day. I’m glad she can’t remember those long days with an anxious, weary mommy.

Wyatt slowly improved. Once we learned his frenulum (the skin attaching the tongue to the backside of the gum line) was tight, we had it clipped. Before long the gassiness subsided and he became an adorable, happy and chubby little boy.

Dad and Mom stopped having to come over to pace with him on Sunday nights. Mom stopped getting as many S.O.S. calls and didn’t have to come as often to scrub toilets or stay with the kids so I could get a short break. For a few weeks I was sleeping for several hours in a row each night before feeding Wyatt and then watching him fall peacefully to sleep again. I was finally starting to normal.

I finally had a chubby, happy little boy!

I finally had a chubby, happy little boy!

Until the day when he was just eight months old when I called Mom in tears. Maybe she would convince me that the positive pregnancy test I just did was wrong.

Wyatt was finally getting better and I had hope that I wouldn’t be exhausted forever. How was I going to face morning sickness, pregnancy fatigue and agonizing anxiety about how I would cope with two children in 15 months on the heels of some of the hardest months of my life?

What if the next baby was like Wyatt? There was no way I could go through that again.

She wasn’t. Annie was a pretty easy newborn but God chooses our trials and our blessings. You’ll probably laugh (just like Mom nervously did on my next shocking phone call). When Annie was just nine months old I was pregnant again.

And this time there were different trials that I couldn’t anticipate and would have never chosen.

Three children in three years. And two of them were sick newborns.

I’ll share the rest of the story tomorrow.

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.

You Will Laugh Again

It was late 1998 and I was yet again on my face in my bedroom literally crying out to God for help. So much had changed in my life in recent months and it often felt like the shifting sands beneath my feet would never stabilize. I was tired of being sad.

In the darkness God spoke. I wrote these words in my journal…by faith: “You will laugh again.”

Laugh? I could hardly smile due to the weight of anxiety and sadness that was gripping my heart. When I considered the future I could only see more darkness.

Have you been there? Are you there now?

  • Are your circumstances closing in on you, tempting you to wonder if God really is in control?
  • Are you discouraged over longstanding challenges or tension in cherished relationships? Does it seem like things are too broken to ever get better?
  • Does fear grip your heart? Does it seem at times that God can’t care or that He has somehow lost sight of you?
  • Are you afraid to hope things will change because you don’t want to be disappointed…again?
  • Has it been too long since you really laughed?

You are not alone. 1998 wasn’t the only time in the past 15 years I’ve felt hopeless and found myself face down pleading for God’s help. And last week I found comfort in the reminder that God’s people have struggled throughout history when suffering choked out their faith.

In my study of the Book of Exodus I’m seeing God’s tender love and patience with His ever-drifting children — and some of the freshness of His word is because of the difficulties through which I’ve walked in the past decade plus. When Moses heeded God’s call to return to Egypt, he went to the leaders of enslaved Israel to tell them about God’s plan of deliverance. Did they begin leaping and praising God for finally hearing their cries?  No. Their surprising response (note Exodus 6:9) to such incredible news reveals issues in their hearts to which I can relate:

“They would not accept the hope offered because of their ‘broken spirit and hard labor.’ Consumed with the darkness of their present circumstances, they [like I have done!] failed to appreciate the light of truth about their future. Nevertheless, their lack of faith did not affect the promises God had already made to them” (Women’s Evangelical Commentary).

I know this to be true for two reasons.

First, because God did fulfill His promises to Israel. He gave them a deliverer (Moses) who led them out of slavery by a powerful display of His sovereign control over both nature and the hearts of men (in the form of things like frogs, gnats and blood stained water). He provided for them in the desert — even when they were rebellious idolaters — and led them into a land “flowing with milk and honey.”

But, second, I know that unbelief doesn’t disqualify believers from receiving God’s promises because the deliverer of His people then pointed to The Deliverer to come. Jesus Christ led me out of slavery to my sin by dying in my place and then being raised from the dead to prove His sacrifice had been effective to declare me not guilty. Even when I have been “consumed with the darkness of [my] present circumstances” He has patiently endured my weariness and unbelief to prove His faithfulness time after time.

God was faithful and I eventually started laughing again.

If you are walking through dark times, you also have a Deliverer. If you’re a Christian, He’s here to say, “I am with you. Hold on to My promises. I will never leave you and I will always do what I say I will do. My faithfulness does not depend on your ability to trust Me, but on my eternal character and unfailing love.”

(And if you’re not a Christian, certainly He is pursuing you or you wouldn’t be reading this blog.  Even if someone sent this to you, I pray you are comforted by the knowledge that God sees and wants to help you.)

Whatever is going on in your life, you’re not alone. And your circumstances, though hard, don’t mean you won’t laugh again.

The Israelites were so weary and discouraged they couldn’t muster the faith to believe help had come when he was standing right in front of them. Isn’t it good to know that even though your Deliverer is living right inside of you His purposes won’t be thwarted by your inability to trust Him right now?

I will go through tough times again. I will be tempted to doubt God’s control and care again. But I will also be the recipient of His love; patience; conviction; strength; and fulfilled promises.

Again.

Is There a Godliness Pill?

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that when ongoing battles with fatigue, discouragement, lack of motivation or depression occur, it’s important to see your doctor. Factors beyond our control can sometimes play a part in our battles with these weighty challenges.

This was certainly the case with me. A combination of thyroid and hormonal imbalances — along with high cortisol levels, and low B12 and vitamin D — were significantly contributing to the malaise and darkness I’ve been experiencing over the months.

This information alone brought me a noticeable level of comfort. Knowing there were medical contributors to what I’ve been walking through brought peace and hope. Just knowing I wouldn’t “stay this way” was encouraging to me and to Benny.  🙂 My doctor changed my thyroid meds; gave me options about some hormone treatments; reminded me of the importance of going back to diet changes I had made in the past that had improved my energy level and ability to concentrate; and told me the supplements I needed to help with adrenal function and deal with vitamin deficiencies.

By God’s grace, after about 10 days I’m already starting to experience the benefits.

I’m sharing this in hopes that that those of you who were empathizing with my struggles with drifting and discouragement will prayerfully consider setting up a physical with your own doctor. Please educate yourself and go into the appointment with enough knowledge to ask good questions and to provide a thorough list of your symptoms and struggles. If you don’t have a doctor who has a “whole person” approach to diagnosis and treatment, perhaps you can ask around and see if friends or family could make a recommendation.

Now that my physical symptoms are improving, I’m in a much better place to tackle the spiritual roots in my heart. Just as there have been real physical contributions to my challenges, there are also real spiritual ones. An angry outburst directed at Benny some weeks back felt like something I couldn’t control because while I have certainly been tempted with anger through my life, it doesn’t typically express itself in angry tones and words. Yet I knew right away that it was wrong. I had simply allowed the difficulties and strong temptations I had been facing to rush out in biting, harsh words.

I’m still finding comfort in the fact that physical limitations beyond my control have been at work in my life. But I don’t want to leave it there. If I simply breathe a sigh of relief and think, “Whew! I knew I wasn’t really responsible for how gloomy and tired and irritable I’ve been. Thank God I have these meds and supplements to help me stop feeling and acting this way!” then I’m denying my own responsibility. The fact of the matter is this: if you had been in my room that day when I fussed at Benny, I wouldn’t have done it.  🙂  I would have exercised self-control, if only to protect my reputation in your eyes!

Physical treatments are needed and helpful, but no pill will cure the heart.

Ed Welch of CCEF is helping me discern what the Lord is doing with these wise words:

“When you love physical treatments, you will spurn spiritual ones. And Scripture teaches that our spiritual interests actually outweigh our physical ones! Our spiritual health is more important and deserves more attention than our physical health….Be clear—the more you search for and rest in physical treatments for problems that are spiritual—the less you find rich hope and joy in Christ.”

I’m grateful for my doctor and the common grace of medicines and supplements. But I’m more grateful for the hope the gospel provides when life gets tough. The love and nearness of God has become more precious to me through all I’ve been walking through. His patience, tender presence and Fatherly correction is the real source of my hope. Each morning as I take my handful of thyroid meds, fish oil, calcium, vitamin D and the rest of those hard-to-swallow pills, I am full of thanks to God for His help in pill form.

But I know that self-control, patience, faith, joy, vision to serve my dear family, and peace come from my Father, not my pills. And the impatience, unbelief, self-pity, ungratefulness, selfishness and criticalness I’ve been battling springs from my own sinful heart. The physical limitations just made it easier for me to give in to those sins, even quietly and when no one knew.

Now that the physical remedies are kicking in, I have growing faith to tackle the vines of sin in my heart. And the remedy for that is my risen Savior who bids me to come to His throne of grace for help to see, repent of and put my sin to death. Wow. It sure would be easier if there was a pill for that, wouldn’t it? But then I wouldn’t get the joy of depending on and getting to know Him even better.

I’ll take Him any day.