Often life is hard, but God is always good

Archive for the ‘Inspiration’ Category

When I Can’t Go On

“When I called you answered me; you made me bold and stouthearted.” Psalm 138:3

Thank God it’s not my turn to lead today, I thought as I stared down at my muddy hiking boots. They didn’t feel like a part of my body, as if they were trudging through the wilderness on their own while my mind roamed free.

After two weeks of bushwhacking through the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, I was fit, but I didn’t feel strong. The terrain, the rain, the pace, all had drained everything from my 17-year old self. Gone were the dreams and excitement of being a “Vanguard” student who would win out against the grueling elements.

I lifted my leaden feet over the fallen log, but I didn’t clear it and I fell, headlong, into the brush. The crash didn’t alert my teammates up ahead and I lay face down in the leaf mold alone and closed my eyes. I am done. I can’t go any further.

This experience when I was young of coming to the end of my rope was the first time I felt such despair. Now in my fifties, I have been at that same place several times– the “I can’t go on” place.

It’s very real, not a product of weakness or laziness or wrong thinking. Life is just too hard, too painful.

What happened next in the wilderness has occurred each time I reach my limit: I got up. My teammates came back to check on me, but I stood up and started walking again.

Where does this resilience come from? I am not exactly sure.

I do have faith that God is real and helps us.

Lately my prayer of gratitude goes like this: “Thank you for having my back, Lord. I need you.”

I have changed my Bluebirds Always Fly tagline from “Sometimes life is hard…” to “Often life is hard”. The second part needs no alteration: “but God is always good.”

John Newton wrote a little known verse of his hymn Amazing Grace:

“The Lord has promised good to me, His word my hope secures; He will my shield and portion be, as long as life endures.”

Today is a day to go on!

 

Me and the Grinch

How_the_Grinch_Stole_Christmas_cover

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” John 15: 9-12 NIV

I relate to the Grinch. Every Christmas season I re-read his story, published in 1957 by literary genius Theodore Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss). This year I was captivated by the original black and white illustration of the Grinch standing at the mouth of his cave, frowning down at Who-ville:

The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season! Now, please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason. It could be his head wasn’t screwed on just right. It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight. But I think the most likely reason of all may have been that his heart was two sizes too small.

But, whatever the reason, his heart or his shoes, he stood there on Christmas Eve, hating the Whos, staring down from his cave with a sour, Grinchy frown at the warm lighted windows below in their town.

grinch bluebirds

To me the Grinch’s cave, with its high vantage point,  isolation, and snowy environment, actually looks inviting. Sometimes, at Christmastime especially, I want to stay hidden away, protected from people – people who can hurt, disappoint or drain me.

I believe that the sanctuary of our personal cave serves as a place of re-setting and re-charging. We receive great benefit from times of solitude.

The Grinch, well, he took it too far, staying far away and hardening his heart.

It’s certain that warmth and light and love exist down in “Who-ville”, but there’s such a risk involved in leaving one’s Grinchy lair. If we are to be brave and venture out of its protection, we need a constant lifeline connecting us to the love of God.

His love has the power to keep us safe when we come out into the open to interact with others.

“…And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of the fullness of God.” Ephesians 4: 17b-19 NIV

grinch - bluebirds 2014

How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss

I Belong, Don’t I?

mizzy-pacheco

Photo Credit: Mizzy Pacheco, Pacheco Photography

“And you also are among those Gentiles who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.” Romans 1:6 NIV

My childhood in the ‘70s included lots of hippie food, clothes, and activities. That set us apart from our wealthy, conservative, suburban neighbors. The grass on the lawn grew too tall. The hair and beards of the men in the family grew too long. Our cars and houses were simple, and kind of funky and neglected. Although I felt loved by my family, as an adolescent I also felt my “oddness” keenly. I felt like I didn’t belong.

Some of that  sense of “odd one out” traveled with me into adulthood. Surprisingly, I didn’t find too many other flower children out there.

However, over time, I have come to experience a deep sense of belonging. It comes from being loved by God and a part of a worldwide diverse Christian family.

Ironically, I, who am a Gentile, worship a Jewish Savior. Jesus came to his own and chose disciples from among the Jewish people. I cannot remake myself into a Jew. But, I know He wants me, too.

Recently, I found evidence for this claim as I re-read the account of Jesus Clearing the Temple in the gospel of John:

“When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get out of here. How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!”   John 2:14-16 NIV

My NIV Study Bible note on the verses explains: …”The cattle, sheep and doves were for required for sacrifices. Jews who came great distances had to be able to buy sacrificial animals near the temple. The merchants, however, were selling them in the outer courts of the temple itself, the one place where Gentiles could come to pray.”

Jesus purposely and with intensity cleared the temple for the Gentiles to have a place to pray.

This obviously mattered to him.

So he made a place for me – how meaningful for a flower child like me.

“From my mothers womb

You have chosen me

Love has called my name

I’ve been born again, into your family

No Longer Slaves, We Will Not Be Shaken album, Bethel Music, 2015

 

 

O Solo Mio – Loneliness

 

Loneliness

Photo Credit: Andi Jetaime

It wasn’t so long ago that I craved solitude – just give me an hour alone so that I could hear myself think. My place on the introvert-extrovert scale rests at about dead center, but as a stay at home mom, the constant verbal chatter of my children often pushed me into a desperate need for silence.

God sets the lonely in families. Psalm 68:6

When I was homeschooling my kids, activities like hiking with my binoculars at the ready to watch birds, swimming distance laps in the local pool, or reading engrossing fiction– all gave me that social break.

But now, it’s lonely time.

Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. Psalm 25:16.

Our second child is leaving home for college. The first one has been gone for almost 3 years. The youngest is busy with her senior year in high school and, as is proper, needs me less and less.

It’s time to transition to working outside the home, but I don’t belong to a workplace community yet. And so, the time I spend in the house is often too quiet.

This lonely feeling is an alert to pay attention to my interpersonal connections – to connect more deeply to the Lord who promises to be my truest friend.

A man of many companions may come to ruin but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. Proverbs 18:24

And it’s time to reach out in friendship to my husband.

I will adjust.

It’s going to be all right.

 

 

Chicken Before the Egg: Thoughts on Faith

bluebirdschicken

Photo credit: Julie Weatherbee

“For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.” Psalm 100:5

My grandmother had faith in Jesus Christ. She walked it out by her acts of kindness, her faithful church attendance, her daily devotional reading of the Bible, and her teaching – mostly through the songs she sang us at bedtime (“Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so”.)

My mother followed in her footsteps, after wandering a while in the fog of Eastern religions during her hippie phase. Mom has faith in Jesus Christ and his love for her.

I do, too.

Today I am reflecting, with gratitude, on how my faith is in God’s faithfulness. The chicken comes first, then the egg, so to speak. His faithful love that is enduring leads to my faith and trust in that love.

Recently, I was served at a restaurant by a young waitress with a tattoo of a Bible verse reference on her forearm: I John 4:19. This is the classic chicken before the egg truth: “We love because he first loved us.”

I pray my children and grandchildren will experience faith – the precious commodity of knowing personally the unending goodness and love of God that “continues through all generations”.

“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” Hebrews 11: 6

 

Swimming in the Shallow End

Screen Shot 2016-05-22 at 12.12.01 PMThe Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” Deuteronomy 31:8 NIV

I lay back on the hospital bed, trying not to concentrate on my thirst, my hunger, my pain, or my fear. In just an hour or so, the operating room would be ready for me – an add-on surgery patient at the end of the day. After 24 hours of fasting and waiting I would be wheeled in to have my foot opened up toe to ankle for the second time in a week, to fix bones that had popped apart.

As I prayed through the swirl of physical and emotional sensations, I found these words of contrition formed in my mind and I whispered: “Please forgive me for swimming in the shallow end, Lord.”

My personal life wasn’t perfectly smooth, but enough had been going right that I didn’t exercise much faith muscle in my daily activities or decisions. I just did it, as the Nike commercial commands, and then thanked God for the results.

Now, when the fear and pain swelled up into mountainous proportions, I was left with atrophied faith to help me. But I found God’s kindness for my spiritual condition, even as the tears leaked from my eyes and coursed backwards into my ears, I heard His comforting words: “I am with you, even when you are weak.”

This just happened last month. I am still laid up with my foot in a cast and pain and depressive thoughts continue to be my daily companions. Yet, I know that I when I was submerged in the deep end, I came out with a better understanding of the faithfulness of God to be with me, no matter whether I am strong or not.

 

 

Are You My Mother?

Are you my Mother? bluebird

Are You My Mother by P.D. Eastman

“He shielded and cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye, like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them on its pinions. The Lord alone led him;” Deuteronomy 32:10-11 NIV

Are you familiar with P.D. Eastman’s classic children’s book, “Are You My Mother?”: The newly hatched bird emerges to an empty nest and begins a prolonged search for his mother, asking extremely unlikely candidates, “Are you my mother?”, until his own mom returns to his nest with a worm and his heart is filled with a rush of recognition and affection.

I want to point out the parallel between mother love and God’s heart for us. He is like a mother in his protective, compassionate, and intense emotionally-connected nature. When his protective nature is described using the analogy of a mother eagle who “stirs up its nest” and pushes the fledglings out to fly, we are not shown a God who leaves and flies away as the babies tumble earthward. Instead, in this Scripture, the mother eagle spreads her wings and carries the young eagles on them. Our motherly instinct is to allow our kids to grow and be stretched, but we do not leave them. Our hearts, our prayers, and our help remain entirely present for them.

When my son married, my mom’s heart expanded to include his new wife and stretched, with acute pain, to accept his independence, yet at the same time, I am intensely connected to his well-being, and that of his new family.

In addition, we, as moms, feel for our kids when they have physical or emotional pain: injuries, sickness, heartbreaks, or disappointments, God feels for us as well. “Jesus wept” (John 11:23), often used as an example of the shortest verse in the Bible, represents the loving sympathy of God for those two sisters who lost their beloved brother Lazarus.

Our Heavenly Father is depicted as a mother who wants to gather us up under his wings like a mother hen (Matthew 23:37). The Lord is “compassionate, and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.” (Psalm 103:8 NIV) This truth is echoed in Psalm 145, and 86. We can trust this warm, protective love of God and “like a weaned child” can rest upon his breast in trust and contentment. (Psalm 131:2 NIV) Let’s open our hearts to be mothered by God.

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