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.

dpshots.com

dpshots.com

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.

vimeo.com

vimeo.com

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.

A Stubborn Struggle

The Christian Counseling and Education Foundation (CCEF) has helped many Christians deal with the shame of depression by taking it from shame to suffering.

Yes. The depressed are sufferers. Even if part of the reason why suffering happens is because sinful choices were made, ongoing discouragement or depression just hurt.

Whether you are battling depression yourself or know of someone who is — or who you think may be — this brief but compassionate video by Ed Welch gives us a tender look at this common struggle.

Remember, depression ranges from mild to severe and touches people of every age and season of life. Even when discouragement or gloominess come and go, the hope that is available to the depressed can help!

I pray this will comfort you or someone you love…and would benefit from hearing what you think.

Beauty in the Desert

Yesterday I mentioned a time 15 years ago when I became familiar with the desert.

Due to all that was happening in our lives at that time, I assumed  the dryness and darkness in my life was simply and only because I was sinning. I wasn’t trusting God. I wasn’t thinking biblically. I was just feeling sorry for myself and wishing life was different. My and others sins were the reason why I found myself in a bad place. Period.

Deserts, to me, were ugly, hard places to avoid…especially since you only got to those dry places because of some wrong you had done. This was before Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ Spiritual Depression or Ed Welch’s Depression: A Stubborn Darkness; wonderful books that offer hope and healing to the discouraged and depressed. Back then the common thinking was depression was primarily the consequence of wrong or sinful thinking or decisions. No wonder people (including myself) were hesitant to talk about it — which is exactly what is needed!

Studio 707

The thought of the Lord leading me into the desert to speak tenderly to me (Hosea 2:14-15) was a surprising thought. And how in the world could vineyards — with their beauty and fruit — thrive in the desert???

Prior to the last six months, God has helped me to look back on my late 1990’s desert experience as just that: a really hard season that produced many good things in my life. During the recent challenges I’ve been walking through, though, those comforting thoughts escaped me. Over the past few weeks God has graciously brought a fresh hope-induced perspective.  I am experiencing genuine relief for my soul and  I will someday look back on this dry time with the same eye toward God’s faithfulness.

By God’s grace, that’s starting to happen!

Does the thought of God leading me into the desert disturb you? I wouldn’t be surprised. But if the desert was a place God led Jesus for His good, then why wouldn’t He lead us there? I can honestly say that the hardest seasons of my life are those where God did speak to me with tenderness. And on my retreat last week, He did just that.

I even received some Fatherly correction from Him.  Tender. Clear. And with love. I look forward to telling you about that next week.

The desert is really hard and really helpful.  Only God can do that.

A Vineyard? In the Desert?

To speak of the past 6 months as a “desert” experience feels like an exaggeration. I have not been consistently depressed or gloomy, and have had some wonderful experiences — like watching the birth of Redeemer Church. But there have been dark times when I’ve felt weary, depressed, fearful and hopeless that certain things would ever change. Even my times with the Lord, which over the years have often been the joy of my day, required unusual effort. And there have been too many days when I gave into the temptation to allow busyness or sleep to to crowd out my devotions.

One day I was especially hopeless and realized my longing for heaven was increasingly tainted with a desire for relief from the fatigue, stress and “hardness” of life.

Then I remembered a time when I felt that before.

15 years ago I went through a similar season when I first had the thought: “This is why people can get to the point where they just wanna die.” While I had no intention to commit suicide, there was a new empathy for the hopelessness that, when left un-helped, could lead someone to think death was their only escape. Until then, I really didn’t understand how life could become so hard or sad or painful that self-inflicted death was appealing. One of the fruits of suffering is greater compassion and less self-righteousness over how others handle hardship.  Such a gift.

Back then, a couple of verses tucked away in the Book of Hosea became a source of great comfort to me.

“Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. And there I will give her her vineyards and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope” (2:14-15).

Whether you are going through a hard or perplexing season now, or will in the future, I hope this verse will cause you to be curious as it did me.

More on that tomorrow.

The Desert Within

What comes to mind when you think of the desert? For east coast Americans, our only reference is media imagery: bright sun, endless sand, little or no life forms, no food, and no water.  Not a place I want to visit, much less hang out!

Yet the Bible has a lot to say about deserts, probably because the typography of many Bible story locations are deserts or semi-deserts.

Just think about it: The Israelites had to pass through the desert to get to the promised land that was flowing with milk and honey. David hid in the desert from Saul (1 Samuel 1) and Elijah spent some considerable time there while in danger, too (1 Kings 19).  And, of course, Jesus had his amazing encounter with Satan in the Judean desert (Matthew 4).

I’ve recently been encouraged by remembering that Paul was knocked off his horse and converted in the desert on his way to Damascus, after which he spent three whole years in Arabia (Galatians 1) being prepared for the history-changing ministry God had for him.

Desert experiences are hard. But the really good news is that they always result in sweet fruit.

Real deserts are one thing. But dark nights of the soul (a widely used phrase from a poem by 16th century mystic Saint John of the Cross) are deserts within. Some of the symptoms can include:

  • Praying for years for something that hasn’t happened and battling fear or unbelief that God cares.
  • Feeling demotivated and disengaged from things and activities you used to love.
  •  Wondering if long held dreams and goals will ever happen.
  • Battling depression and hopelessness.
  • Wanting to withdraw from people; having to force yourself to go to meetings, hang out with people; etc.
  • Struggling with self-pity and gloominess.
  • General feeling of “going through the motions”; lacking joy.

Are you in the desert? If this list describes you all or in part, consider doing what I did recently and see your doctor to discover if there are things beyond your control that are playing a part in your struggles. Then let people know you’re hurting. For some reason, going through dark times is not something about which we Christians talk to each other. We are too often tempted to put on a happy face and feel ashamed to disclose the desert within.

But what freedom comes when we humble ourselves and say, “I’m not doing well. Can you pray for me?”

More tomorrow on my desert journey.  The hard time I have been walking through doesn’t compare to that of so many who have struggled far longer and for far more serious reasons. If you’re not struggling right now, thank God…and maybe think of someone you know who could use some encouragement.

Because there’s always hope.

A Yellow Flower in the Sand

I spent part of last week on a personal retreat spending leisurely time with the Lord, something I haven’t done for several years. Unlike past retreats, I went into it without much of a plan. (Those of you who know me know that’s a little unusual…smile.) As I was making the two-hour drive to spend 3 full days alone, I asked the Lord to meet me. I was desperate to encounter Him.

If you’ve been a regular reader here, you know that I’ve been going through some rough times. This time away was something Benny really wanted me to do, so I trusted that God was speaking through him. My devotional life hasn’t been as consistent as normal, and my times with the Lord have been characterized more by duty than delight. I was crying out to Him for refreshment…and rest.

While taking a leisurely walk on the beach (with my new sidekick…a camera) I decided to investigate an area with lush green vegetation just a few yards up toward the condo. The mid-atlantic beaches we frequented before moving to Florida didn’t have such beauty growing in the sand, and it continues to surprise me.

Carefully watching my steps to avoid another fall (you can read about that at my last post below) I came upon this pretty yellow flower. My immediate thought was, “How in the world can something so fragile and cheery be growing here in the hot sun and dry sand?” I wondered how it could be possible that the ocean winds — and even storms that certainly must bring water up to this point on the beach — wouldn’t kill it.

Then I glanced over and noticed several other similar flowers scattered nearby. And all of them looked perfectly healthy.

That’s when the Lord started speaking….

You see, I am that little flower. The dryness of recent months, along with winds of change that have blown through my life, have left me feeling in some ways like it must “feel.” Dry. Hot. Kinda lonely. Some physical challenges have taken their fatiguing toll as well.

I wasn’t looking for this little flower.  I was drawn toward the vibrant green vegetation  ahead. But I noticed it — just like God notices me. To Him, I’m not withered, languishing and left unnoticed as He tends to those who are thriving. Just like that little flower, with His help I’ve survived the wind and rain. And like it, too, I’ve actually been growing in a dry place.

These thoughts rushed through my brain and heart with a combination of gentleness and clarity I can’t explain. The Lord was saying: “I have been with you. I have been tenderly caring for you. You thought the dryness was starving you and you wanted out. But it was just what you needed in this season. Some flowers only grow in this environment and that’s what I’ve been doing. Growing something beautiful.”

Ugh. Tears are coming even as I type.

Have you, too, been in a spiritually dry season? Maybe you’re one of those flowers that has been growing nearby me. If so, I hope the things I’ll be sharing over the coming weeks will remind you that God sees you, too. And He is doing something really beautiful in your life because He never wastes anything.

I pray that you, too, will “happen” upon beauty on display in your hot, dry life. The wonderful thing is, you don’t even have to be looking for it. Sometimes God just surprises you along the way.