Often life is hard, but God is always good

Posts tagged ‘faith’

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!

 

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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

 

 

Chicken Before the Egg: Thoughts on Faith

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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.

 

 

Broken Hearts and Infertility

bluebirds - infertility

Photo Credit: Miroslav Petrasko

The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

Psalm 34: 17, 18 (NIV)

I was twenty-six years old when I got married. My plan for kids was to work full-time for exactly two years then start a family.

Having trouble conceiving was nowhere in my frame of reference, so I was emotionally blind-sided when it happened. Add to that living far away from friends and family when we began going to specialists and taking tests.

The result of all the anxious medical effort was “undefined infertility” and no guarantee if or when we could have a baby.

My yearning for a child burned like fire. How could I feel that horrible? No one ever told me about this desperate pain! For months, I followed my inner city pastor’s wife down the aisle of the church to the prayer altar after services. She always passed my pew with streaks of tears down her face. If she – a church leader- wore her heart on her sleeve, so could I.

My inner world was one quivering cry of doubt and despair. I had no trust in the outcome. I held onto one tiny scrap of faith that God was good and wasn’t punishing me.

There is no way around any mountain of suffering. Honestly, even now, my trust in God is mostly based on what He has already done, not what He will do, but He still acts on my behalf even with that “little faith”.

Now that is a good God – one who doesn’t hold back mercy or help until we are wise, strong or filled with faith.  He leans in when we are in despair and breathes life into our lungs.

Years later, I did become pregnant and we had a beautiful baby boy. Two lovely girls followed. “He settles the barren woman in her home as a happy mother of children.” Psalm 113:9. I am overwhelmingly blessed with the gifts of my children, but they didn’t come as a reward for my faith-filled prayers, spiritual surrender, or organized plans. God just gave them to me, and I am profoundly grateful.

I don’t know why I was spared more years of infertility heartbreak.  I pray diligently for those women I know who are walking through disappointment in this area – for strength, for hope, and for their heart’s desire.

No burden of bitterness

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Photo Credit: Rhino Neal

Get rid of all bitterness, rage, and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Ephesians 4:31 NIV

 I jumped back as if stung; the words on the page had leapt, too. Not mine, but my grandmother’s. Why had I opened her journal? Entering her bedroom was innocent enough – checking on whether she was ready to go to the church service. An open door and an empty room don’t excuse reading another’s personal diary! But, the damage was done. I had opened the worn leather cover and read the first page that opened to my touch.

What had I read? Her personal and anguished thoughts about moving away from her family and familiar Philadelphia environs. It must have been an old journal because my grandmother had lived for many years in the Chesapeake Bay area in this unique house by the water, designed by her husband to boat to and from. She had always seemed serene, busy, and connected to church and community in the Northern Neck of Virginia during these retirement years.

So what did it mean? It was another evidence of my grandmother’s faith and maturity – that she didn’t become bitter and isolated, even when her initial feelings about uprooting from Pennsylvania were so intensely painful.

I do not endorse or excuse my own actions to violate her privacy. I am ashamed that I never confessed to her what I had done, and now it is too late because she has gone to glory. This “story” came to mind recently because so often we don’t know what another person has had to overcome – so often the cheerful person we know has already moved far beyond hurt and pain, having won their personal battle with resentment.

I would like emulate my grandmother, carrying no burden of bitterness with me as I move forward in life. The Bible describes bitterness as something that can take root and grow– that, too, is something I pray to avoid.

“See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” Hebrews 12: 15

Lord, please remove any small or large bitter roots in our hearts. May we follow Paul’s exhortation to “get rid of all bitterness, rage, and anger”.  In its place, please grow kindness, compassion, and forgiveness.

Amen

 

 

A Willing and Able Helper

Photo Credit: Leon Grubler Creative Commons License

Photo Credit: Leon Grubler
Creative Commons License

The Lord is with me; he is my helper. I look in triumph on my enemies. Psalm 118:7 NIV

As I stood at the front of my church sanctuary last month soaking in the wonderful worship song, I felt the pressure of a hand against my back. It stayed gently and warmly present during the song. Strange to say, when I finally turned around, there was no one there.

That encounter carried a special significance for me: I was struggling with a problem that Sunday, and the previous week my counselor had described my own parental help to my teenage daughter as a gently, supportive hand upon her back.

God was reminding me that He is my helper.   “People of Zion, who live in Jerusalem, you will weep no more. How gracious he will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you.” Isaiah 30: 19

My goal as I write this post is to keep it very simple:

God wants to help us.

He can.

He will.

Let’s ask Him.

Let’s receive it.

Of course, the manner in which His assistance comes varies with the way we hear Him and with the form of our present need.

If we are …

Confused – He gives wisdom

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” James 1:5

Tired out/Weak – He gives strength

“He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.” Isaiah 40:29

Hateful/resentful – He gives tender heartedness

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32

Troubled/Grieving – He gives solace

“But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted; you consider their grief and take it in hand. The victims commit themselves to you; you are the helper of the fatherless.” Psalm 10:14

Self-loathing – he gives forgiveness

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.” Ephesians 1:7

Fearful – he gives peace of mind

“So we say with confidence,’“The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?’” Hebrews 13:6

Let’s believe and receive the help from the best Source of all!

My prayer today for you and for me: “May he send you help from the sanctuary and grant you support from Zion.” Psalm 20:2

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