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.

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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.

When Only an Embrace Will Do

mysteryreadersinc.blogspot.com

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 Doubts Don’t Disqualify

Late one night in 2009 we got a call.  Our oldest daughter, Jaime, was upset. “Mom, you won’t believe it. Our house was hit by a bullet less than a foot below the girl’s room!”

In the few short years since they had moved into their beautiful new home, crime required them to make calls to the police. But this straw broken the camels back. PJ and Jaime decided that night they would be moving. Immediately.

Gratefully, they quickly found a landlord that would rent to a family with four young children — and a doberman. Jaime knew the decision was the right one, but a part of her was understandably sad to leave the house they had made into a home. Three of their four children were born while living there, and Danae made her entrance into the world in their bedroom upstairs. Memories made and hardships endured had endeared the house to her. She drove away wondering what the future held but eager to live in a safe place.

Two rental homes later, it looked hopeless that she and PJ would have a home to call their own anytime soon. Then when Redeemer Church was launched 40 minutes away and her dad and I started talking about moving, she battled discouragement. Last summer she and I discussed how sad we would be when she helped us pack up a moving van without any timetable for them to join us.

My grandchildren will soon be making messes and memories in this home.

My grandchildren will soon be making messes and memories in this home.

Yet this afternoon she and PJ will settle on a beautiful home in Lake Nona.

What happened? God intervened. He made the impossible possible. Through a sovereign stream of providential love He led them to a sale by owner home that perfectly suits their family. Just three months ago that which seemed like an impossibly distant dream has become a reality. And one happy Granma is thrilled that Kayla and Wyatt will be riding their bikes to my house after our own move there in early March.

Jaime was connecting the dots even before she and I talked yesterday.

“Mom, God knew when that bullet hit my house that this home would become mine. He knew it all when I was worried that I’d never own a nice home my kids could love like I did my childhood home. He was there when I was crying over feeling like we wouldn’t have roots anywhere. All along He was arranging everything so that I would have a school room and a backyard and a playroom and a house I can use for hospitality. Why in the world did I not trust Him???”

A friend once said something I remind myself of regularly: “Let’s all just admit it: trusting God is just plain hard work sometimes.” It’s true. Trusting God doesn’t come naturally. It’s a work of His indwelling spirit that alludes us when trials loom.

Over the years I’ve watched my daughter walk through some really hard stuff. When disappointment and fear stalked her and circumstances tempted her to distrust God’s compassionate care, she’s been honest about her struggles. She is like every other believer, including her mother, who has doubted the love of God during suffering. Author Jerry Bridges says, in fact, that questioning God’s love and care is a typical reaction of the struggling Christian. (His book, Trusting God, is one of my top five life changing books.)

Are you struggling through a season where doubts of God’s tenderness and care are stalking you, too? Are waves of disappointment, sadness or discouragement beating against your heart and tempting you to wonder if He is really in control? Do unanswered prayers make it seem like hopes for the future will never happen for you while you watch others enjoy blessings and fulfilled dreams?

When God’s delays tempt you to wonder if you’re loved, perhaps you can remember Jaime.

In 2003 a house was built. Six years later she and her family would move into a home one hour north; a house in which she planned to spend many memorable years. God knew what she didn’t. Circumstances would require that she, her husband and their four children would move into three different homes during the following four years until that house built in 2003 would become theirs through a set of only-God-could-do-this circumstances.

Understanding why the twists and turns of life happen is hard. Trusting God through those unwanted changes is often harder. How comforting to know that our distrustful hearts don’t disqualify us from His provision.

I’m happy that my daughter and her family have a lovely new home. And that she knows Who provided it.

Despite her doubts.

No Sold Sign…Yet

My house is still for sale. I was hoping it will sell quickly but it’s been a month now.

I hate waiting.

I’ve never been a good waiter. The other day I was sitting at a light and heard myself say to my daughter, “Geesh, this light is long.” We had been sitting there for maybe three minutes and I was itching to step on the gas. Seriously? There minutes isn’t a long time…unless you’re a bad waiter.

But there are good things about waiting. For me, knowing a realtor can call any day to ask to bring a potential buyer helps me keep my house tidy and vacuum dog hair more often than I would otherwise. It helped last week when someone showed up without calling. (After they left I wondered if they noticed the pair of one of my grandson’s underwear on the floor in the guest room? Oh well.)

What are you waiting for?

Sometimes waiting is something we can control. Like when you walk into a restaurant and choose to go elsewhere rather than standing in a crowded lobby for an hour while your stomach growls. But often the waiting is providential: God is in control and there’s nothing you can do to speed Him up.

Psalm 40:31 tells us that waiting on God renews our strength. I’m been thinking about this lately. How can waiting make us stronger? Too often for me, waiting makes me nothing but impatient, discontented or self-pitying!

Waiting on a house to sell is nothing compared to waiting for a baby to fill your empty arms, money to buy groceries, relief from chronic pain or that a loved one will turn to God. But I don’t think the reason for the wait is as important as the intended strength the Lord can forge in the process.

Strength through waiting is something only He can grow.

Strength to say no to whining and complaining at His timetable. To trust when delays assault His faithfulness. To cry out for comfort and help when weakness sets in. To repent when treasonous thoughts tempt us to doubt His fatherly love. To fight for joy when yet another day or week or year or decade goes by without getting what we want.

Getting impatient is a common temptation in our debt-infested, eat on the run, hurry-up culture where nobody wants to wait on much of anything. I’m realizing that it’s likely God’s kindness that motivates His slowness at times. Wise parents realize that character is built when kids learn they can’t always get what they want when they want it. And God, as our Father, is the best parent of all.

There’s a part of me that keeps thinking, “Once I really get to the place of trusting God for the sale of our house, then it will sell.” Silly me. That means God is the one waiting for me to get my act together before He answers my prayer. Who does that mean is actually in control, then?

No. God’s plans are not controlled by me or you. Thankfully, even our salvation was His initiative. “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” He didn’t wait for us to pursue Him, but pursued us when we were helpless sinners. I think He demonstrated then that the  waiting was on us, not Him.

My house won’t sell because of something I’m doing or not doing…well…other than keeping it clean and attractive for potential buyers. It will sell when God moves the heart of someone to want to hang pictures of their family members on the walls here. Until then, I wait.

And gain strength to be patient, trusting and joyful until the “sold” sign shows up.

Looking For a New Home

Benny and I are starting to look at houses in the area where Redeemer Church was planted early this year. While we live only about thirty minutes away, we want to be in the community to reach out, serve, build relationships and have people into our home.

The home I've come to love (it's not as big as it looks; the right side is a garage...smile.)

The home I’ve come to love (it’s not as big as it looks; the right side is a garage…smile.)

The problem is this: we just purchased the house we’re in less than 2 years ago.

It was quite the process. I wanted a yard that happened to have an older house on it. I’m one of those people that loves multi-year remodeling. I like having and managing projects, and making a home “mine” by doing things like knocking out walls to make the space more open and maintaining a wish list of household projects to save for. I love taking something old with character and turning into a cozy, warm place where family and friends feel welcomed. I also have eleven grandchildren and a lab for backyard romping.

Joey reading a book written by my grandchildren and illustrated by my daughter, Julia. A prized recent birthday gift.

My Benny wanted a pretty house that had a decent yard that wouldn’t take too long to mow. While he has graciously endured my “projects” over the years (including adding a cute little apartment onto our Virginia home for Mom) he hoped for a home where the walls would remain in their place and maintenance would be minimal.

When we first saw the home we are in I was unimpressed. It was too “nice.” And it was painted a perky peach color. I walked around inside trying to picture which walls could be removed but I couldn’t find any. In fact, the only thing I could see that needed to be changed involved paint. (Which, by the picture above, you can see was taken care of first thing!) After numerous visits to yards that happened to have houses on them we made a low offer on the pretty house and it was accepted.

Our family room was the first place Redeemer Church met.

Nearly two years later that house has become home. We’ve celebrated holidays and birthdays here. Because we didn’t have walls to remove our big family can actually all sit down to eat because there’s room to add several folding tables. We’ve laughed and prayed and worshiped and made memories in this house that I didn’t like or want. Now I love it. As I sit here in the family room typing there are tears brimming in my eyes.

Getting ready for granddaughter Amelia’s first birthday party.

Have you ever felt a little “tricked” by God? Have you made a decision or entered into a relationship or accepted a job that wouldn’t have been your preference simply because it seemed like the right thing to do? You see, Benny got the pretty house and I got the yard big enough for all eleven grandchildren and the dog — all for what we could afford! And I got to enjoy a few projects that included painting kitchen cabinets and lime sherbet colored walls and the peachy exterior.

Now I actually like the house and don’t want to move.

Family worship times in our family room are among my fondest memories.

In my mind I know God didn’t trick me into moving into a home I didn’t really like only to make me love it just in time to move again. When we purchased this home He knew that a year later providence would lead us to plant a new church, requiring us to leave.

His sovereign plan is always accompanied by His tender care. Remembering how He moved my heart to love this home is comforting. But what is helping me most today is reminding myself that no place will truly be home until He welcomes me to the place He is preparing for me. What my heart is longing for has not been nor will it ever be found in my lifetime.

I’m longing for a place I won’t find in Florida.

I was made for another place. A place from which I will never move. Never pack boxes. Never cry over leaving. Until then, my life is not my own. I must continue to prize His plans over my preferences and fight for joy in the midst of unwanted change. I’m struggling to fully embrace His will and am asking for strength to once again say, “Yes, Lord.” With a good attitude.

Backyard races with Papa.

His past faithfulness assures me of present and future grace. After nearly 20 years in the same Virginia house where our children were mostly raised (not counting those I spent there with my parents when I was younger) I have moved 3 times in the past 12 years. Each time we’ve made memories and I moved reluctantly.

Maybe there’s a yard in Lake Nona, Florida with a house on it just waiting for someone to knock down its walls. Or a pretty one that Benny will like as soon as we walk in. Maybe I’ll live there long enough to come to love it.

Mostly, I want to love God’s will — whatever that is. What joy to know that “soon and very soon” I’ll see the home He is preparing for me. I won’t care about where the walls are or the size of the yard. Anything He is planning for me will be perfect.

Benny and I will be out again soon looking for a new home…but the search is reminding me that it will once again only be a temporary one.

I’m smiling. Just knowing that makes me a little bit more okay above moving.

When Complaining is Okay

I’m still studying the Book of Exodus and am so grateful for how God’s word is affecting my heart. I’m encouraged, comforted, convicted, inspired…and I’m not even halfway through this epic book full of drama, romance, war, miracles and instruction. Who says the Bible is boring?

One thing I’ve noticed is how often the Israelites complained to or about Moses rather than taking their concerns to God. This is one of the numerous ways I’m seeing my own story on the pages of this ancient book.

As a younger Christian, I used to wonder how in the world people in the Bible could respond to situations the way they did. For example, how could the people who saw the Red Sea open up — and stay open long enough for 2 million people to cross over — so soon thereafter start complaining and accusing Moses of wanting to kill them?

Now I’m much quicker to see myself in the struggles of those who have gone before me.

When is complaining okay?

King David complained. He wondered why the wicked prospered seemingly more than the righteous; felt alone and abandoned by his closest friends; was hunted down by mean-spirited persecutors; suffered loneliness; and skirted death on numerous occasions.

There’s something interesting, though, about David’s complaints. They were directed toward God, not men.

“With my voice I cry out to the Lord; with my voice I plead for mercy to the Lord. I pour out my complaint before him; I tell my trouble before him” (Psalm 142:1-2).

Complain to God??? What about “do all things without grumbling and complaining?” Isn’t complaining just wrong…period? And no one should complain to God of all people — much less admit it!  “Yeah, this morning I had a great devotional time just pouring out complaints about all my troubles to God.” I don’t know about you but in the past I would have thought someone like this needs some toughening up. And I certainly wouldn’t admit it openly if I was that person!

The truth is we all complain; it’s just a question of who is within hearing distance. What is different about David’s complaints and the “no complaining” directives in the scripture?

“Hurling a barrage of complaints at Moses exemplified the natural tendency to assume the worst and to lash out at the nearest human target,” says my new favorite commentary.

In recent years I’ve learned that the Bible really doesn’t condemn complaining to God. When I do this, sometimes the light goes on to self-pitying attitudes about how I’ve been wronged, disappointed or hurt. Other times I recognize that anger or an attitude of entitlement (for encouragement, gratitude, praise, affection, or numerous other desires) is slithering out of my sinful heart. But I always receive the tender comfort of One who knows what it’s like to suffer.

David’s complaints weren’t the self-centered accusations “hurled” at people to whine and grumble about things not going his way. Rather, his complaints were the heartfelt cries of a needy, broken man who knew Who was best able to bring perspective, help, hope and change. David’s honest pleas for help are not the rants of an embittered, entitlement-driven man but of a vulnerable, honest struggler who knew where to turn for help.

Who are you complaining to? There’s Someone waiting to listen, adjust whatever is needed in your perspective, comfort and bring you hope, too. The truth is people hurt us. Circumstances crowd out our joy. Bad news comes. Illness happens. Children and spouses and friends mess up. And we bring our weakness and sins to the mix as well.

Like David, let’s complain to the right Person. Tell Him all our troubles. Pour out our hearts to Him. Open up our struggles and share with Him what He already knows and sees.  The fruit can be sweet. Conviction of sin. Promised grace to the humble. Hope, not necessarily for a change of circumstances but for a changed heart. Peace in the midst of the storm.

No wonder David reserved his complaints for his God. Reserving our complaints for Him governs our whining and positions us for real help from a powerful and eager Father.

A 50-year-old Abduction Story is Still Teaching Me

I’m battling some anxiety about things these days. But that’s not new. Fearful thoughts have plagued me for years. It seems to have started with an attempted abduction by a creepy stranger when I was seven. I don’t know if my bouts with anxiety are somehow connected to that — could be unrelated. But that’s the first time I remember feeling afraid. Really afraid.

In the small town of Greenbelt, Maryland in the early 60’s the local police had started doing presentations at elementary schools about how to respond if a stranger approaches. They had come to Center Elementary School to speak to some wide-eyed kids, including me.  I remember thinking no such thing would ever happen in our little town where everyone knew everyone and kids ran around safely without concern about bad guys showing up. Why would a stranger think a kid would fall for getting in his car to find a lost dog or get candy anyway? That was just silly.

I was shocked to find this picture of the detached garages in Greenbelt similar to the one where my friend was abducted. Photo credit: http://www.nps.gov

Just one week later, Pam and I rounded the corner after school to walk through a row of garages and he was there leaning against the back of a blue car. Smiling. Asking our names. Inviting us to go with him to get ice cream on that warm spring day. I studied his face; made a mental note of the color of his car; and memorized his license plate number. Just doing what the police said I should.

The problem was telling my parents. You see, my friend agreed to go with him!  I couldn’t believe it. Pam was in the same police presentation as I was. Yet when I tried to pull her away she pulled against me, trying to get me to come along. As I turned to run he said, “Hey!” I turned. “If you tell anyone about this I will find you and hurt you,” he said with a firm but hushed voice. I can still see his dark, glaring eyes.

I couldn’t fall asleep that night. I kept seeing those eyes and rehearsing his license plate number, afraid I would forget. I remember thinking I didn’t want him to find me…or my baby brother who was in a crib in my parents room next door. I wrestled with whether or not to tell my parents. Finally, I rushed to their room sobbing. Within hours the police had picked up the mean-eyed man; discovered that Pam had been returned home (my parents never told me if she had been harmed); and called us in for the lineup.

The weeks…or was it months?…between his arrest and the court date seemed to take forever.  My parents told me not to be afraid because the police told him he could never come back into Greenbelt. Back then, kids were told not to tell their friends about stuff like this to avoid a panic. Pam didn’t come back to school and ended up moving. I remember walking to school with my neighborhood friends and feeling scared that he was lurking. I didn’t tell my parents I was scared. I wanted to be brave; to live up to the police commendation of me being such a courageous and smart girl.

Years later it came up that I really was scared for those tense weekday walks to school and back before the trial. Mom was sad that I hadn’t told them. It was then I learned a police escort followed my friends and me daily…unseen.

Today I’m thinking about those days. Sometimes when I’m afraid I’m still hesitant to admit it. I want to be brave and not cowardly. I want to “live up” to the encouragement I’ve received about walking through difficulties with a trusting heart. I’m realizing that there’s still a bit of that little blonde seven-year-old still inside who wants to keep my fears quiet so everyone will think well of me.

I’m in pretty good company. In Philippians 2 Paul talks about sending Epaphroditus to Philipi so check on everyone so that he “might be less anxious.” And in 2 Corinthians 4:8 he speaks of “being perplexed, but not driven to despair.” The apostle who warned us to be “anxious for nothing” struggled himself with anxious and perplexing thoughts.

Are you anxious? Fretful about money; a needed job; a struggling or wayward child; years of singleness adding up; a difficult situation with a friend; ongoing challenges in your marriage?

You’re not alone. Temptations to fear are common. Trusting God, as a pastor friend of ours once said, “can be just plain hard work sometimes.” It’s hard for me right now in some areas. Yesterday I told Benny about my fears. It wasn’t easy. I felt childish and vulnerable and not brave. Yet there’s peace in being known as one who struggles with the common temptations of believers throughout history. Paul didn’t hide his anxiety and perplexity and neither should I.

I want to deal with my anxiety; to see it for what it is — a common but treasonous response to hard things that tempt me to doubt God’s proven faithfulness, protection, provision and care.

Today I’m reminded that Someone is watching over me. He’s with me everywhere.  And He’s not watching from an unseen distance but dwells in me. Because He was willing to die on my behalf as proof there is nothing He is unwilling to do to love and care for me, I can repent of my anxious thoughts and cry out to Him for fresh faith.

I can trust Someone who has demonstrated His unrelenting commitment to help me, even when the help I need is to believe He’s still actively and lovingly there. Only God could use something that happened to me 50 years ago — something scary and bad — to remind me of His watchful care.

His eye is on the sparrow — and I know He watches me.

Gospel Truths For the Wait

A few of my regular readers have thanked me for being so “real” on this blog. I guess I don’t view it was being “real” but just as being a sinner who lives in a fallen world who shares her life with others like me. Life happens and sometimes in ways that hurt, disorient or tempt us. Your thanks to me shows you find comfort in the truth that, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Cor 10:13.). Our struggles are common, and knowing that others deal with similar difficulties can bring comfort and hope. I hope that happens for some of you again today.

I love the first half of that verse.  But, honestly, the “that you may be able to endure it” is disturbing to me sometimes. I want it to end with “that you may be able to escape it.”

I was recently interacting with a friend that is going through tough times with some close family members. Like me, she would like to escape the situation because enduring it is uncertain. Will these loved ones make right decisions? Will they reach to God for help? What could be the longterm outcome of unwise or sinful choices? How long might she have to wait and pray and trust God with these weighty situations that are understandably testing her faith, keeping her awake at night, and producing heart wrenching temptations to fear and anxiety?

I sent the following words to her this weekend that encouraged her soul and mine. The comfort wasn’t in my words, but in the gospel truths that lie in them. These are truths I’ve been taught for years by dead authors, wise preachers and caring friends. If you are going through some tough times with someone you love, I hope they will feed your soul today, too.

The story ISN’T over!!  It wasn’t over when you and I were young adults.  It wasn’t over when we sinned and did things that could have had incredibly damaging and longterm consequences in our lives.  It wasn’t over for my mom, who become an alcoholic in her 30’s and nearly destroyed her life, but who lived her last 25 years free from her addiction and fully devoted to God.  It’s never over when God is involved.  Grace really ISN’T resistible for long.  Our loved ones cannot run out of the reach of grace.  The gospel and it’s clutching power is not dependent on their (or our) desire or ability to hang on.  Because Jesus died and rose again, there is no hole they can dig or cave they can run into that allows them to remain hardened to the love and pursuit of a God whose strength and power is utterly unmatched by any person or idol or lust or sin.  But, oh the pain that waiting means!

The truth is this:  God will get us through, my friend.  He will be faithful.  He has proven Himself good and strong.  We will look back in years to come, whatever happens with those we love and whatever choices they make (good or bad) and however long it all takes and we WILL say “It is well with my soul.”  Whether we have to go through many more dangers, toils and snares the grace that has brought us safe thus far WILL lead us home.  It will.  And on That Day we will see the wisdom, goodness and love of God in it all.  Until then, we will struggle and hurt and cry.  But this will end.  Whether on this earth or in heaven (and we never know when we’ll get there — tomorrow or 30 years from now) it will all be over.  

He is faithful.  He just doesn’t usually work on our time table.

So, Lord, help us to trust You, especially with delays that test our faith. You really are in control.  And You really are good.  Always.

The Beauty of Brokenness

Yesterday I was talking about not apologizing for God’s will. A friend commented on the post, saying, “…although there are trying circumstances weighing on me, the good far outweighs the bad. I can speak like the Israelites who said in Psalm 126:1, ‘When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.'”

I’m asking myself if I am one of “those who dream.”

I think part of what I’ve been walking through recently is the disappointment of some of my dreams not coming true. Here’s an example…

When I was younger (umm, much younger) I dreamed that Benny and I would serve at the same church for forever and ever. We started a church at age 25 and then spent two decades growing and serving and sinning and making memories together. Many of the people who helped get the church off the ground persevered through the hard work, challenges and leadership changes — and are still there three decades later. In those early years we talked about being buried in the woods behind the building we all sacrificed to see happen…and mused about replacing the little ones we held in our arms during worship with our future grandchildren someday.

Two churches and lots of gray hairs later, I now hold my grandchildren hundreds of miles away from that place. Sometimes I still battle sadness over forever and ever not happening there.  With them. I see pictures of their grown-up children on facebook and remember holding them in my lap, then wonder, “Do those kids even know who I am?”

Then I think about the people I wouldn’t otherwise know. The tears and prayers and fellowship and laugh-till-I-cried moments that wouldn’t have happened with friends I wouldn’t have gained. The trials and suffering that awaited me here in Florida that I needed to get to so I could experience God’s help in delightful, sanctifying ways.

Broken dreams are hard to handle. Until I think of Eden. I think about how God’s perfect and beautiful plan for His image-bearers was broken by sin. Yet even before the garden was created, God devised a plan. From the brokenness came a glorious plan of redemption that put God’s wisdom and love on display when our sinless Savior paid the ultimate price.

When I was dreaming about forever and ever, God knew my dreams wouldn’t be fulfilled my way. But how can I not praise Him for the experiences and people that wouldn’t have otherwise happened if there was really a place for me to be buried out in those woods?

It’s like seeing a lovely mirror crashed and broken on the floor.  Now, rather than one piece of reflective beauty, there are many. My broken dream has resulted in numerous unsolicited yet precious gifts — including a brand new church to which God knew my broken dream would lead.

My friend reminded me of dreaming. I hope her reminder blesses you today.

Dream on.