I am devastated. Have you ever felt that way? Just about the time you think things may be going smoothly, the wheels start falling off. All around me – among my close friends, in my family, and also out there stretching to others I know, people are suffering, hurting, and wondering what to do and how to do it. Perhaps you, too, are in a time of challenge or conflict. It’s hard, isn’t it? It’s not essential to identify each of the problems, disappointments, or tragedies that we each are facing. Just for the sake of illustration, some of the tough things I am currently observing include the un-expected death of a young friend’s mother following surgery, heartache of friends whose children are far from God, poor choices with life-long consequences, wisdom needed for best care of the sick and elderly, and damaged or broken relationships that hurt. And this, my friend, is just the short list. The thing I am learning is that this is life. Some cliches come to mind – “life is not a bowl of cherries,” “into each life some rain must fall,” and “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.” just to name a few.
Years ago I read a book by Rick Warren in which he described life not as a single line on a graph that goes up and down over the years. Rather he said he saw life more like railroad tracks. As the years come and go, on one track there are always some good things that are part of our story. But at the same time the other track includes the tough things we experience. I think he is right. For example, I often remind young married couples that in the traditional wedding vows a commitment is sealed with the words, “for richer or for poorer, in sickness or in health, for better or for worse.” Publicly, the bride and groom acknowledge that there will be some better AND there will be some worse (and all the old couples in the audience silently say in their heads, “you can count on it!”).
So, where does that leave us? I have learned that when “the other shoe falls” (whatever that may be in your life), the best thing I can do is to get by myself and immediately ask, “Yes, I’ve got a problem, but what can I be grateful for?” You may think this sounds trite but I can tell you for a fact that it makes a huge difference. When you start saying out loud or writing down all the things you can be grateful for, your strength and confidence and ability to think straight will begin to be renewed. Then you are much better equipped to tackle the problem or issue, whatever it may be.
Besides practicing an attitude of gratitude, the best news for me is that I am not alone. My form of Christianity is not about being religious, following a set of rules, or attending church regularly. Rather it is about an up-close and personal relationship with God, the creator of the universe. Jesus died for my sins, rose from the dead and lives forever. Because I have accepted his gift of salvation and committed my life to following Him, I am never alone and He is my helper, defender, counselor, guide and friend.
His Word is the best source of help for every situation. And his presence and peace overcome the fears and anxieties. He is sovereign and He has my back, even when I do not understand. He is always right and I am wise when I obey. I have often regretted decisions I made wanting my own way. But I have never regretted obeying the Lord.
Consider the claims of Christ and the promises in God’s word. Here are just a few for you to ponder as you face the next hard thing in your life.
“Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me. For I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls.” Matt. 11:28-29
“Ah Lord God! Behold, Thou hast made the heavens and the earth by Thy great power and by Thine outstretched arm! Nothing is too difficult for Thee.” Jer. 32:17
“Call to Me, and I will answer you, and I will tell you great and mighty things, which you do not know.” Jer. 33:3
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” Prov. 3:5-6
Hard times are hard. There is just no way around it and we all have hard times. But you do not have to be alone. God is for you and He will see you through. Will you trust him?
We are on vacation and I heartily recommend one for you! You know there are a variety of vacations — travel trips that are fun but exhausting; large family trips; educational vacations; and then there are the restful, relaxing get-a-ways that give time for pause. The relaxing type of vacation is the one I am talking about today. Our go-to place is Daytona Beach. Yours might be a lake house or a place in the mountains.
Getting away from home, work, and our normal schedule is so healthy and necessary. I sometimes hate it that I am such a task-oriented person. Every day I make a list, tackle it with a vengeance, rarely take a break, and typically rate myself at the end of the day. Sometimes I feel very productive, other days I wonder how I stayed so busy and accomplished so little. This rat race lifestyle will get to you after a while.
Thus, my recommendation for vacation. Something about getting away from home allows most of us to shift gears a little. It may take a day or two but it is wonderful when you don’t look at the clock and you begin to enjoy the little moments.
JB still reminds me of the first time we went to Daytona with my parents soon after we were married. I kept telling him “you get to do whatever you want to do at the beach!” He was pumped! I am an early riser and love to get up and watch the sun rise. JB, on the other hand, is a night owl. In other words, he loves to sleep in! First morning at the beach I went in to tell him breakfast was ready. He rolled over and told me he was sleeping in. I announced, “Mama has breakfast ready and you have to get up now!” I guess Mama brought her schedule to the beach and I was just accustomed to it. JB insisted, “You told me I could do whatever I wanted at the beach!” It took us a while to sort this out, but let me just say that he won (eventually) and nowadays I let him sleep in when we are at the beach!
Perhaps you, too, have a hard time getting off the fast moving merry-go-round. Go! Go! Go somewhere and do something different, or perhaps plan to do nothing at all. We tend to ignore or forget the value of down time – time to reflect, refresh, remember, renew, and re-charge. Lively, meaningful communication is not easy to establish and maintain – at least in our family. Something about long road trips, a change of scenery, and distance from the urgency of work and schedules at home often promote times to talk about the things that really matter. This is one of the potential hidden treasures to be found while on vacation. Right now I can re-call many instances of deep conversations on huge subjects while on long road trips with just one other member of my family. These significant marker-times in our families typically cannot be scheduled but they are blessings when we take time to pause.
Back to our time in Daytona this year. It has not been perfect! For starters, we planned this family vacation around Rob’s schedule. He is working on his masters’ in Ft. Worth and we had to consider his break times. So we chose last week and Mary Margaret and Wes scheduled vacations from their jobs to come. About a month ago Rob announced, “Oops, the info I got on summer school schedule earlier was not correct. My Hebrew class starts a week earlier.” So, for a start, we did not have all the family here. Secondly, we had a lot of rain! Now that can be a problem at the beach, but we managed to claim every bit of sunshine and we entertained ourselves and made some great rain memories. MM and Wes enjoyed a day at Disney despite getting soaked. And then there was our Noah memory made when we got caught in a flash flood in our car and I was sure we were going to float into the other cars on the road or have to bail water out of the back seat! Truth is we will be re-telling these stories and remembering sweet times together for years to come.
I am so excited and scared to death… at the same time. Do you know what I mean? For years I have felt led to pursue a career of speaking and teaching on a regular basis. The truth is I have done a good bit of both – teaching and facilitating Bible studies in the local churches we have served and also speaking for events when invited. But I have never been willing to take the “leap of faith” and make myself and my life stories available to those who are seeking a speaker or teacher.
Now, as only God can do, He has lined things up, convinced me it is His plan, and confirmed in many ways that the season has come for me to get out of my comfortable boat and walk on water! In case you don’t get the analogy, it is time for me to be willing to obey God by taking some risks and perhaps looking foolish!
So… He has lined things up. What do I mean by that? Well, for years I was covered up with family responsibilities. It was fun, but that stage is over now and I have more flexible time in my schedule. I like to stay busy but I am wearing myself out making too many trips to Wal-Mart and organizing my closet over and over. God has convinced me that I now have time for this adventure. While I used to think I needed to find all the answers and get things right myself before I helped someone else, God has shown me that it is in the journey of life – good stuff and tough stuff that we can best help others.
God has also convinced me this is His plan, not mine. I have put this off for so long telling myself it was my idea and probably not a good one. I am a very cautious personality… I mean very cautious… the kind of person who makes the biggest mistakes by sitting still and doing nothing. Remember the parable of the talents in Matthew 25. I hate to admit I always identified with the guy who buried what God had given him. Not good. However, I now recognize that God is the one who has called me to this season and my biggest fear is that I might miss it! A friend gave me The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson last year for my birthday. When I read it I just said “Wow!” God began opening my eyes to some things He wanted me to see. Recently I ordered another book by Batterson entitled In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day, never anticipating that God would speak to me through this book. But He has! I have realized for the first time the potential dangers of my overly cautious tendencies, especially right now regarding this opportunity for service. I do not want to get to the age of 85 and suddenly regret the things I was unwilling to do for God. But one more thing….
God in His graciousness has given me many confirmations along this journey thus far. This is such a gift to a cautious one like me, and I do not take these confirmations for granted. One is a very supportive husband who has encouraged me for years to do this. He is so often right and I am so often slow to realize it. Go figure! Our children are my biggest cheerleaders (and helpers with all things technical!), and I am blessed with a huge group of friends who have been telling for years to get serious about a career in speaking and writing. They have been faithful; I have held back. But, no more! Another confirmation has come through my current involvement in a very large Mom to Mom program at our church. For the past year my most fulfilling, exhilarating moments have come when speaking to our girls. I love the study and preparation time and I also enjoy very much the delivery time and interaction with our audience.
Finally, God has confirmed through his Word and through my devotional time that this is his plan and that he will accomplish his purposes if I will just be willing to be used by Him. To illustrate, I read in My Utmost for His Highest on March 11, “I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision.” Acts 26:19. Oswald Chambers said, “if you allow God to plant you, you will bear much fruit. It is essential that we live and walk in the light of God’s vision for us.” A good word for me. And then I turned to Experiencing God by Henry Blackaby, and read, “Do you sense there may be far more that God wants to do through your life than what you have been experiencing? Ask God to show you what it is. Then be prepared to respond in faith and obedience to what He tells you.” And when I opened Jesus Calling I read, “If you live your life too safely, you will never know the thrill of seeing me work through you.”