Disappointed By God?

What a week! How many times have you reached the end of a weekend and though that to yourself?  This past week really had me up, down and sideways, which always makes me step back and look at things differently.

shutterstock_1196187574I’ve thought a lot this week about hoping and wishing for things.  There was a situation in my personal life that looked like it was going to work out better than we had expected, but then it just didn’t pan out the way we had hoped or wished.  It seems to be the way of life for us, and you’d think we would learn to not expect anything at all.  After all, it would be easier to not hope for anything and be pleasantly surprised, than it would be to think something is going to work out and have it fall through.  Does this sound like days, weeks, or even years you have experienced in your own life?  When I consider the possibility of abandoning hope or expectations that things will work out, it flies in the face of what I have believed.  I’ve always believed God is working everything out for my ultimate good, but what happens when you feel let down over and over until you stop asking for things?

There are a lot of televangelists who tell us we can ask for anything from our Heavenly Father, and I agree that’s true.  We have every right and privilege to ask, but we must remember that sometimes the answer is wait, and sometimes the answer is no.  Just because we ask for it, doesn’t mean it is best for us.  Sometimes what is best for us is something totally opposite of what we ask.  In theory, and as people of faith, we know this to be true but it can be so incredibly defeating and discouraging when it happens over and over.  It is certainly easy for me to start looking at things differently and question why I even ask in the first place.  I start becoming a spiritual “realist” and soon I’m not asking for anything anymore because I’d rather not be disappointed…again.

shutterstock_137512043When my situation came up this past week, it looked like God was doing something above and beyond for us, but then it didn’t happen.  Do you know what that made me think?  I started thinking “here we go again; God must be disappointed in us to dangle this out there and then yank it away.”  I was totally disappointed in God and it temporarily undermined my trust in Him.  Yep, my so‑called faith took a tumble into the abyss for a little while.  But why?  Because my perspective was out of whack on two points:

  1. Our initial problem had actually been resolved far better than we thought possible, and I was thrilled, but then came the possibility for even greater things. When those things didn’t happen, I developed “spiritual amnesia!”  I no longer felt the same gratitude and excitement when my initial prayers were answered. Once a possibility for more existed, it shifted my mindset into hoping and wishing for what I believed was greater or better.
  2. The possibility of greater things was something I attributed to my impression that God was going above and beyond, instead of realizing the enemy could be using this extra aspect to distract me from being grateful for already answered prayers. And it worked.

Once I began thinking negative thoughts about who God is and who I am as His child, everything started to tumble down the rabbit hole right behind it.  I didn’t stop with being disappointed over the present circumstance, but rather continued ruminating on every disappointing circumstance in my life – now or in the past.  I became overwhelmed and depressed.  I told myself I was going to become ambivalent in my prayers and requests to God.  You can imagine the thought process: “If I just ask for things but then don’t expect anything in the answer, I won’t be disappointed.”  I started thinking maybe that’s how God actually wants me to view things – unexpectant and ambivalent.  I have to admit, it was simply another depressing thought, because I couldn’t see past the darkness in which I was tumbling.   The truth is “unexpectant and ambivalent” are the opposite of “trust and certainty,” but in my darkness I could not tell the difference.

shutterstock_401236261Gratitude does not come easy in the storms of life.  When we start jumping to conclusions about what God is or isn’t doing in any given situation, instead of leaving things in His hands and trusting Him to do what is best for us, we often end up disappointed.  The majority of our issues, however, come from thinking that the “best” means the most lucrative or easiest.  Our definition of “good” and “bad” are based on what we can see with our own eyes, or ideas, but God has the vision and perspective of eternity and knows every aspect of our situations.   My uncle used to say, “We don’t really want to trust God to take care of us because what if He doesn’t take care of us like we want to be taken care of?”  I think that is more accurate than most of us would like to admit.  God doesn’t want us to get so conditioned by life that we lose our passion, joy and peace.  He doesn’t want us to ask Him for things and not care what the answer is.  He wants us to be content in the outcome of our requests as a result of understanding who He is and how much He loves us, not because we simply stopped expecting anything from Him.

Look, God knows we are human and that we are going to experience disappointment, hurt, betrayal and many other emotions.  He also knows it is our tendency to let it overwhelm us.  The shortest verse in the Bible is John 11:35 and it simply says, “Jesus wept.”  Lazarus had died and when Jesus got to the tomb and saw his sisters and other friends weeping, it moved Him to the point of tears as well.  Jesus knew He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead and yet He still wept.   He also understood that death here is temporary.  He knew, better than anyone, that life continues for His children in Heaven, and yet He still cried.  Why?  Because knowing the outcome of the story doesn’t mean you don’t cry at the sad parts.

shutterstock_563555992 As people of faith, we know that eventually everything works out for our good, but that doesn’t mean we won’t have to deal with tears, discouragement, anger or depression along the way.  What matters is how we keep walking in spite of it.  It doesn’t mean we won’t have times where we are so tired or discouraged that we curl up into a ball to try and catch our breath; what matters is what we do with that breath when it returns.  Will we use it to perpetuate the darkness around or within us, or will we lift our voice like Paul and Silas in prison and praise the One who loves us and has promised to take care of us?

For me, I don’t want to be blinded to all the good God is doing (or allowing) in my life because of my inability to let go of what I think is “best” for me or my loved ones.  I’m not saying it will be an easy thing to do or a perspective that will be easy to maintain.  I’m just saying, there is no other way to truly experience the peace that passes all understanding and to live the abundant life He offers us.  It’s time to change our definition of what “abundance” truly means.

Blessings!

A C(h)ain Reaction

Most of us are very familiar with the term “chain reaction,” where one thing leads to another and then on to another.  Well, this past week I experienced something I am now calling “the Cain reaction.”  No that is not a typo, and yes I will explain!  I didn’t see it coming, but it totally changed my perspective, and I just had to share it with you!

Most people of faith (and some who are not) have heard the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis chapter 4, and if you ask them about it, you’ll probably hear a synopsis that goes something like this:  Well, Adam and Eve had two sons, Cain and Abel.  They both offered sacrifices to God, and God accepted Abel’s but rejected Cain’s.  So, Cain got angry and took his brother out to a field to murder him.  When God asked Cain where Abel was, Cain asked that famous question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  It’s not a story we often talk about, but this past week, there was a chain reaction that led me ultimately back to this story, and everything about it changed for me.

 Lately, it feels like life has been knocking me down and then kicking me while I’m down there. I keep getting back up, but it’s exhausting doing it over and over. I am positive some of you can relate!  As person of faith, you’d think that I’d be stronger when the rough seasons of life hit, but being a believer does not prevent me from sometimes crumbling under the weight of this world.  Just because we are children of God, doesn’t mean we are immune to anger, depression, sadness or frustration.  Just because we know we CAN have peace and strength in the midst of difficult times, doesn’t mean we actually lean on it.  Just because the Bible tells us “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” doesn’t mean we won’t have times where we cave and say, “I just can’t handle anymore!”  That’s what happened to me last week.  Then a series of events took place that I need to share with you.

shutterstock_566571199It all started when someone, who knows what I’ve been going through in recent months, unexpectedly came to me and said she had been reading a devotional and a verse jumped out at her that she felt needed to be shared with me.  The verse was John 16:33 where Jesus said, “I’ve told you these things so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble, but take heart!  I have overcome the world.”  As a result, this friend made me a pendant on which she stamped “John 16:33.”  Because I was so touched by the gesture, I read that verse over and over.  It is a familiar verse, but all my life, I’ve focused on the last part of it, the part where Jesus says we will have trouble but that He has overcome it.  THIS time, I couldn’t get past the first comment, “I’ve told you these things so that in me you may have peace.” I just kept thinking about the fact that Jesus thought it was so important to remind His followers of why He had continually shared all He did with them.  It’s like He was saying to ME, “Look, there’s a reason I’ve told you all I have about life, it’s troubles and how to navigate it.”   That thought pushed the chain reaction into full swing, because it prompted me to pick up my Bible so I could remember the things He had “told me” in His word.  This time though, instead of turning to the many familiar passages of encouragement and promises, I returned to something I hadn’t finished reading almost three months ago – Genesis chapter 4, the story of Cain and Abel.

I don’t think anything happens by accident; I never have, but sometimes I am totally amazed to look back on my path and see all the things that had to come together in order for me to experience something or have a change in my perspective.  I think we have become so cynical and/or oblivious that we no longer take the time to pause and see the interconnectedness of events in our lives.  I’m not talking about major steps, though sometimes it can be, but rather the little things that go unnoticed that end up leading us to a conclusion or decision that has an impact on us.

shutterstock_152320880So what was this epiphany I had when I read the verses telling the story of Cain and Abel?  Well, I used to think of Cain as just a terrible person, an evil man who got jealous of his brother and killed him in cold blood.  Not only that, but then he had the audacity to make a smart-a** comment to God Himself (Gen 4:9)!  I’m not excusing anything Cain did, but I want to share a different perspective.   Here were two brothers, one was a shepherd and the other was a farmer.  When it came time to give an offering to God, it was supposed to be a sacrificial lamb.  So, Abel provided an offering according to what God had requested, but Cain decided he would give something different.  Cain decided it would be better if he sacrificed the best that HE had to God.  It’s most likely that his intent was honorable, and that he thought surely it would touch God more if he sacrificed the best of his crops instead of asking his brother for a lamb to sacrifice, while giving up nothing himself.  It wasn’t that he was being a disobedient jerk, but rather that he felt like God would be more pleased if he gave Him the absolute best of all he had.  He was trying to honor God his way instead of simply doing what God asked.  Unfortunately, he was wrong, and when God accepted Abel’s offering, but had no regard for Cain’s, it made him angry, depressed and dejected.  Wouldn’t YOU be?

How many times have I done exactly what Cain did, and tried to serve God my way instead of His?  How many times have I given up things that He never asked of me?  It’s great when our heart is in the right place, and our motives are good, but we’ve all had situations in life where the end result still went sideways!  At times, the same thing happens when it comes to our service to our Heavenly Father.  We offer up what we think will make Him happy, instead of doing what He has already told us will make Him rejoice.  Modern religion and churches are filled with people with good intentions, trying to serve God in ways they have reasoned will be pleasing to Him, but ultimately missing the mark completely.  Many of us have become so self-focused on what we are doing for God that we can no longer hear how He asked us to do it.

shutterstock_137269457Ok, so back to Cain…  In my memory of this story, I somehow forgot that God actually talked to him twice, the first was BEFORE he killed his brother.  Gen 4:6-7: “Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen?  If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.”  God loved Cain and knew he was upset, so He took a moment to remind him of something really important:  We have an enemy and it isn’t our families, friends, coworkers, church members or anyone else; it is something bigger.  Ephesians 6:12 tells us that we don’t wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the power of darkness.  1 Peter 5:8 tells us to be alert and sober-minded because our enemy, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.   Cain’s emotions got the best of him and God knew it, so He basically said, “Look, if you simply do what I ask instead of what you think I want, you’ll have joy.  But if you lose focus and start trying to do things your way, sin is crouching down waiting to pounce on you.  It wants to take you down! It wants you!  If you let your anger and sadness take over, it is going to lead you down a path that will destroy you. You’ve got to learn how to let it go.”  God stepped in when He saw Cain upset and tried to help him regain his focus.

After God spoke to Cain, Gen 4:8, simply says that Cain “told his brother.”  What do you think that conversation was like?  I can see Cain venting to Abel about what happened and what God had said to him.  “Abel, I gave God the BEST of what I had and He didn’t even care!  And then do you know what He said to me??”  I can hear Cain going on about it and then Abel responding with something like, “Well, He’s right.  I know you think it was your best, but it’s not what He asked for.”  Cain was probably looking for an ally in his brother, someone to agree with him that God was unfair and mean.  When that didn’t happen, Cain fell into a fit of rage and killed his brother.  Cain didn’t purposely take Abel out to a field to murder him because he was jealous, it simply happened as a crime of passion.  Even the Bible says it just happened, “And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up and killed his brother” (Gen 4:8).

On Wednesday last week, I was so angry at God for not doing things the way it originally LOOKED like He would.  I was distraught and felt like God was dangling carrots in front of me just to yank them back.  I told my dearest friend, “I just feel like I’m trying to do what God wants me to do, and He just keeps kicking me in the teeth!”  It’s so hard to stay focused when it feels like God has let you down.  It’s hard to not get sad and depressed when you thought you could see the path ahead only to find it collapse in front of you.  I wasn’t just angry; I was angry at God for having a different plan and not just accepting the one I had laid out. After all, I was giving up my best!   In that moment, my best friend lovingly reminded me of the truth of God’s word, and I knew she was right, even though my heart was crushed.

shutterstock_134516501As I sat in my chair the next morning, blown away by what God had just revealed to me, I said out loud, “Oh my God, I am CAIN!”   I realized my frustration that God’s plan was not what I thought it should be caused me to allow the enemy to leap from his crouching and pounce all over me.  And then I heard God speak to my heart the same thing he told Cain that day so long ago: “I have a plan, and if you will just trust me and follow it, everything will work out.  But if you let this disappointment you feel, as a result of me not doing things your way, just keep eating at you, it’s going to destroy you.  You’ve got to let it go and trust me.”  Talk about being humbled by something…God’s same words to Cain in his crisis of faith thousands of years ago became the same words He said to me in mine.  And just like Cain, I had a choice to make in how I moved forward, but instead of holding onto my anger as he did, I chose to unclench my hands and let it go.

It is amazing how God works and weaves so many little things together to shift our perspective.  He paints with brushstrokes we often don’t understand in order to create beautiful paintings we couldn’t even imagine.   He promised to work all things out for our ultimate good, but it’s hard for us to understand that when we are looking at a single stroke of His brush.

I guess sometimes we all need is a little “c(h)ain” reaction.

Blessings!

Waiting Is The Hardest Part

I’m sitting here on this “Silent Saturday” evening, reflecting on all that went on the weekend that Jesus went to the cross and died for all humankind.  There is always such focus on Good Friday and even Holy Thursday, but we often just skip over the day that is referred to as “Silent Saturday,” a day that Jesus spent silent in the tomb before rising.  It was a strange day for His followers, and it feels that way again to me today.

shutterstock_177898622Silent Saturday for the followers of Christ was a terrible day.  The previous day, their Savior had been brutally beaten to the point of being unrecognizable and had died a horrible death on the cross.  The people who had believed in Him were crushed, scared, and worried about what the future would hold.  They heard Him promise that He would rise again on the third day, but they doubted it.  The Bible doesn’t come right out and say it, but if they believed His promise with all their hearts, they would have been waiting expectantly at the tomb on Sunday to see it happen.  Instead, they were afraid.  It was extremely silent for them.  Fear hovered over them while darkness hovered in the tomb.  Waiting is always the hardest part.

There is something about silence and darkness that makes most of us uncomfortable.  The disciples were hiding for their lives.  How discouraging it must have been to wonder if everything they had sacrificed for Christ and all they had believed to be true would end like this – huddling together in fear of what would come next.  As I sat here pondering how difficult the silence was for the disciples back then, I realized how hard it is for me over 2000 years later.

shutterstock_675753925All of us have experienced our own personal versions of “Silent Saturday.”  We face times when we have lived from a place of faith in God and His promises, and hold tight to our relationship with Jesus, believing what He has said, even when we sometimes don’t fully understand it.  We follow; we believe; we trust.  We marvel when we see God’s hand working in our lives or the lives of those around us, but then we find ourselves in a Silent Saturday.  We pray for God’s guidance or His help, but it seems He is silent, so we assume He is gone and start to question what will happen to us in His absence.  We feel scared, helpless, and if we are honest, we sometimes feel betrayed, as if everything we have done has been for nothing!  Where is God?!  Why won’t He answer me?  Why won’t He help me?!  The longer the silence, the more scared or disillusioned we become.  Depression sets in and we huddle down and start trying to figure out what we should do next to protect ourselves, because obviously God has let us down.

The past few months in my life have been filled with terrible events and great losses and griefs, and they just keep coming.  It is a strange season of life, and I have said to those closest to me, “If God were merciful,” or “I wish God would just be merciful and…,” and then I would add whatever I felt that would be to the end of that statement. Yesterday I uttered those words again and then it hit me: When I make those kinds of statements, what I am really saying is “God is NOT merciful.” That realization hit me right in the heart.   The same thing happens when I say, “I wish God would be gracious and…,” again, fill in the blanks at the end of that statement with whatever it is you think should happen in a given situation, or with what you want to happen.  I guess I just never thought about the fact that when I start stating what I think would be merciful or gracious, then I have put my knowledge and opinion above that of the One who knows everything and is working everything for my good.

shutterstock_712494409The disciples were already confused and fearful when Jesus was arrested.  They watched Him willingly lay down His life when they knew He had the power to strike back at those who were harming Him.  Surely they felt like their entire world was falling apart and the future was too dark to see.  Jesus was dead and in the tomb; Darkness set in and the silence became deafening.  What I always found interesting was that Jesus had told them multiple times what He was doing and why He was doing it, but they just kept missing it.  (Matthew 16:21 and 20:17-19) The problem wasn’t that they hadn’t been told, but rather that they never fully understood – or didn’t want to understand.  Jesus even told the disciples “I am telling you now before it happens so that when it does happen, you will believe that I am who I am.” (John 13:19) How many times has the same thing happened to me because I was blinded by my own ideas of what should happen, based on an incorrect interpretation of what God has said to me through His word? Just like the disciples, sometimes I can’t get out of my own way to see His.

In times of great trouble, grief, fear and worry, we often search for meaning.  We search for answers and guidance.  We search for shelter and comfort.  We struggle against the silence we are experiencing, and then start doubting everything we ever believed.  The longer we wait, the harder it is to keep the darkness from overtaking us and reducing us to terrified people, hiding and just hoping to survive.  I know it happens, because I am living it myself, right now in 2019.   I am drowning in fear and pain in my heart and soul, and the longer this darkness lasts, the harder it is to not lose faith.  The longer it is quiet, the more tempted I am to believe this is what life is going to be like forever, and that maybe I was wrong in what I believed.  In a nutshell, Silent Saturday stinks!

Most of you have seen the holy week quote that says, “It’s Friday, but Sunday is coming!”  I’ve always looked at that as a reference to the miraculous resurrection that secured my eternal life as a believer, but today it suddenly meant something else.  Sunday isn’t just about my salvation, but about the resurrection of hope and faith in me (and in us).  There is a “Sunday” coming in my life where I will see God move in ways that are impossible for me to understand right now while I am in the midst of silent but excruciating pain.  The marvelous truth about my Silent Saturday is that no matter what I feel, it doesn’t change the fact that God is working things out behind the scenes.  He has made deep and abiding promises to me, and He doesn’t have to keep repeating them in order for them to be true.  On the other hand, sometimes I need to go back and read those promises again, and read that God is the same yesterday, today and forever, so that I remember they are true.  I need to remember it so that I can breathe in the silence and still have sight in the darkness.

shutterstock_74847238I am so grateful the original Silent Saturday didn’t last, and on Sunday morning, the grave burst open and Jesus walked out ALIVE!  But this year, I am also grateful to remember that the Silent Saturdays of our lives don’t last either.  I’m not saying these seasons of life are easy, by any stretch, and we are all in different places of faith at different times.  But just as the disciples could have benefited from reminding each other of the truth, and holding each other’s hands in moments when the fear or sadness was too much to bear, we can lean on our brothers and sisters in Christ to do the same for us (and us for them) as we trudge through the difficult times in life.

For the disciples, Friday was shocking and devastating, Saturday was silent and incapacitating both in action and in their hearts, but Sunday changed EVERYTHING!  I read a statement that said, “Good Friday was the worst Friday until Sunday.”  There is such truth in that statement, and the same holds true in the challenging times in our lives.  When we experience tragedy or trouble, there isn’t anything good about it in our minds.  We are left in places where the silence is deafening, and we are gutted with incapacitating fear or grief.  We have to wait, and doing so makes us wonder and feel like the silence will never end, but then we finally step into the sun of a new day.  Things start becoming clear and we see the proof that God was working even when we didn’t see it or didn’t understand.  We then rejoice, celebrate and are changed by what we have witnessed.  God has promised us that our trials and testing of our faith is for our good.  James 1:2-4 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

“Fridays” beat us down, “Saturdays” leave us reeling, confused, and grieving, but when “Sunday” comes, we can finally see good in our trials and the strengthening of our faith through the silences.  So on this resurrection Sunday, pause and thank God not just for everything He did so that you can live eternally, but also for all He does to constantly resurrect our faith and hope as he works all things for our good.  We can’t see what He has in store, and waiting is definitely the hardest part, but He knows that when the night is over, He is going to knock our socks off!  Joy comes in the morning, and I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait!

Blessings!

Not Without Hope

Many of you have heard the Bible verse that says we sorrow not as those who have no hope.  I would assume that almost every occasion (if not all) was in reference to someone who has passed from this life.  Sure, it is a comfort to know that we can have hope in the midst of our grief when we lose someone we love, but these past few weeks or so have once again made me look at a common verse a little differently.  I recently lost my dear uncle Dewayne Hoppert, and it has affected me in the most profound ways.  Of course the verse I mentioned keeps coming to mind, but not in just the sense of hope I have of seeing my uncle again, but more in how my uncle lived HIS life.

dewayne happyMy Uncle Dewayne (or Uncle Wayne as I called him) was the most amazing man of faith and incredible teacher of God’s word.  He gave up a very successful and lucrative career in construction to answer the call to full-time ministry.  He earned a double Bachelor’s Degree in Theology and Bible Languages, as well as Master of Bible Languages and Doctor of Bible Languages.  He was not only masterful in his study of God’s word and everything associated with it, but also in relating it to others in the most easy to understand ways.  He was an incredible Pastor and Uncle, but he was an even more amazing example of what it means to live by faith.  Uncle Wayne lived with the effects of Multiple Sclerosis for many years.  He had continual health issues, eventually ended up in a wheelchair and often needed assistance physically.  By all rights, he should have been sad, depressed, and maybe even angry at God for allowing him to suffer physically after he had dedicated his entire life to His service.  Many people would have thought, “If this is what serving God and living by faith means, then I don’t want any part of it.”  But not Dewayne.  Nope, my Uncle Wayne always had a smile on his face and encouragement for everyone else.  You could always hear him laughing from the depths of his soul or whistling as he wheeled around the church.  At his Celebration of Life service, it was one of the most talked about aspects of his life aside from his faith, and yet it was his faith that allowed him to be so joyful and hopeful.  How in the world was he able to keep that attitude no matter what stresses came into his life (physical or otherwise)?  Well, for lack of a better statement, “He sorrowed not as those who have no hope.”

Grief and loss is such a terrible sensation.  Whether we lose a loved one, our jobs, a relationship or any other thing we value, it saddens us.  It grieves us.  It breaks our hearts.  I have lost a lot of people in my life who were dear to me, and I usually go back to this verse (along with others) to comfort me that I will see them again.  Some losses have been profound, but this is the first time I have been so confounded by one.  Maybe it’s because Dewayne was my “second dad.”  Maybe it was because, for 20 years as Music Director, I had the privilege of working so closely with him as the Pastor.  Maybe it was that he was so consistently there for me as my Uncle.  Maybe it was that he was a giant of faith in my eyes.  Or maybe, just maybe, it was simply because he lived every word he ever taught or preached.  Every time he said, “God is in control,” or “God’s got this,” he spoke out of the experience of living it.  He may have doubted now and then, but he never caved to that doubt.  Instead, he talked about how we can live victoriously over our circumstances through our faith, hope and trust in God.  And just like him, we can do the same thing by letting our love and gratitude for God drive our mindset.

shutterstock_672165244Hope is not easy to come by in a hopeless world.  Recently our Pastor brought a message on hope, and it reminded me of what Dewayne always taught:  The word “hope” used in the verse  “…sorrow not as those who have no hope,” isn’t the kind of hope this world has conditioned us to consider.  This is not just wishing for something.  We talk about hoping we get that promotion or raise.  We talk about hoping something goes well.  We hope our team wins the game.  We hope the weather is good.  We hope, we hope and we hope, but what we are really saying is we “wish.”  This verse, however, uses a word that does not infer wishing, but conveys the certainty of a positive outcome.   I’m not going to go into all the certainties of the resurrection or the certainty of our salvation as believers.  Instead, I want to talk about this idea of being certain of the positive outcome of a situation.  Romans 8:28 tells us that all things work together for our ultimate good and His glory, but when you are trudging through difficulties it’s hard to feel that way.

Having faith isn’t very hard in the good times, but when the rubber meets the road, we are so quick to complain and murmur.  We complain about our jobs, families, churches, traffic,  health, and everything else that doesn’t go the way we want.  We all have difficulties and challenges, but we don’t all go through them the same way.  The Bible is filled with verses telling us God can be trusted and that we need to trust Him.  It tells us He operates differently, and has ways that aren’t like ours, because He sees the big picture.  He knows all the paths in my life and sees it as a beautiful tapestry, where all I see is the mess of threads on the other side.  He isn’t doing things to harm me, but I can only see the threads, and sometimes it feels like He must be mad at me based on my circumstances. But in Jeremiah 29:11 He declares, “For I know the plans I have for you: plans to proper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  Verse after verse tells us to seek God first, and He has promised He’ll take care of us in every way.  Dewayne used to say our problem with being totally committed to trusting God is that we KNOW He will take care of us, but we are afraid He won’t do it like we want Him to.  That’s so very true.  We want Him to lead us, but not if it takes us down a path that has difficulties.  We’ve twisted our perspective of God and who He is so much that it’s no wonder we struggle with our faith when things go wrong.

shutterstock_527029558I’m going to be a raw here for a moment.  I miss my Uncle Wayne more than I could possibly put into words.  At times it is an isolating sensation, even though I know others miss him too.  The sorrow over the loss of his physical presence is even more difficult than I imagined it would be.  I miss everything about having him here to see and talk with, whether it was laughing about old times, sharing music, discussing God’s word, or even just saying nothing while enjoying his company.  My heart breaks every time I realize I won’t have one more hug, smile, laugh or conversation with him.  It is a loss so profoundly difficult to process, but then in those moments it’s almost as if I hear his whistling drifting down from Heaven.  I am reminded of what he endured in this life and how he kept his faith no matter what he had to face.  I remember things he taught, but more importantly I remember what it looked like watching him actually live those very things through faith.  He wasn’t perfect, but I’ve never known anyone who was a more perfect parable of what it is like to be a sinner saved by the grace of God, living victoriously through trust and faith in Him.  I told someone recently that we have the perfect, sinless example of Jesus Christ on how we should live our day-to-day lives, but I was blessed beyond measure to have the most perfect example of what it looks like for an imperfect child of God to dedicate himself to learning God’s word, loving God’s word and living God’s word – even when he messed up.  I saw someone who asked for forgiveness when he sinned and understood that he didn’t have to beat himself up over it, because God forgives AND forgets.  I saw “perfect imperfection,” and it was incredible to witness.

My last visit with Dewayne was something I intended to keep private, but now feel compelled to share with you.  I did not intend to see him in the hospital because my previous visit at church with him had been so “normal.”  I was content with it, but less than two days before he passed from this life, God tugged at my heart, and I wanted to go see him.  I couldn’t explain why, but my husband and I headed to the hospital.   He was resting and not very alert, though he would nod and react to what we were saying.  There were even a few moments of laughter and responsiveness.  Before we left, I took his hand and told him I loved him.  He kind of mumbled that he loved me too, and then said, “Hey Mike” to my husband.  On the way down to the lobby of the hospital, my husband and I were talking about being glad we came, even though it was tough.  Suddenly I realized I had left my purse up in the room.  DANG!  We had to go back.  I wasn’t thrilled, but it ended up that my forgetfulness was a total gift from God.  When I walked back in the room, he was actually quite alert.  I got my purse, but then he started talking with me.  We spoke for several minutes, mostly about God being in control.  Here he was, still proclaiming God’s goodness even in his most difficult time.  He told me three different times how proud he was of me, which felt like warm oil soothing my heart.  As we talked, he said, “God’s got this.  There may be some challenges here and there, but He’s working it out and everything is going to be ok.”  He repeated those sentiments several times throughout our conversation.  Then he said, “Study,” and I told him the great thing was that he had actually taught all of us HOW to study through the rules of interpretation.  I told him he had equipped us, and that I would absolutely study.  I said, “That’s a great gift because you can listen to someone all day long but until you study things out for yourself, you don’t own it.”  He pointed at me and said, “That’s right, you’ve got to OWN it.”  He and I then clasped hands, and he pointed at me with the hand I was holding and said, “Now you’re responsible.”  Although my cousin and I laughed and joked a little bit, in my heart (and based on his expression), I will always believe he meant we are the next generation and we need to carry on in faith.  Before I left, we told each other “I love you.”  This time there was no mumbling, but the clear beautiful words that are etched into your soul in those moments.  As I left his room I turned around and pointed at him, and he pointed right back.  Then I gave him a thumbs up, and he laughed and gave one back to me.  That was the last image I had of him.  He was laughing with me and giving me the thumbs up.

I started this post saying I have never had a loss that affected me so profoundly.  It is because the way he actually LIVED affected me so profoundly.  It is a multi-faceted kaleidoscope of memories and lessons that is too massive for me to be able to wrap my head around.  My last visit with him was filled with more than what I could have ever imagined.  His ability to keep his faith, trust and joy was so strong that it filled the room in which he was staying.  It really was no different than how it filled every other room he had been in over the course of his life.  He was different.  He had HOPE!  He knew it didn’t matter what he faced, even when he had every right to be angry or bitter, because in the end he knew he was going to overcome.  He never sorrowed in this life as those who have no hope.  He had hope even when MS began to make it difficult to do certain things.  He had hope when he became confined to a wheelchair.  He had hope when his health faltered or when he had to deal with other challenges associated with life or ministry.  He didn’t just have hope, he LIVED hope!  And so can we!

Matthew 5: 14-16 is something Dewayne spoke about quite often.  “You are the light of the world.  A city set on a hill cannot be hidden, nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.  So let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in Heaven.”  He always said those verses don’t say we might be light, but that we ARE light; the question is whether or not we are going to shine or hide.  We have a reason to hope (the certainty of a positive outcome), and it is our turn to shine.  We don’t have to reserve our hope simply for knowing we will see our loved ones again.  We can be certain every day and in every circumstance (no matter how difficult) of exactly what my Uncle Wayne last said to me:

“God’s got this.  There may be challenges here and there, but He’s working it out and it’s going to be ok.”

Blessings!

Derailed!

shutterstock_135699662Do you ever have times in your life where things are swirling around you at such a terrible pace that you seem to just run off the rails?  I read a definition of the word “derail” that said it is “to be deflected from a purpose or direction, permanently or temporarily.”  When I read it, I couldn’t help but think of how things have been in my own world lately.

I’ve always said that sometimes life hits us with the most unexpected situations and leaves us absolutely reeling.  We are shaken and the longer it goes on, the more difficult it becomes to find our footing to stand strong.   When these situations involve the people closest to us, it makes it that much harder to not get discouraged or depressed by what is going on around us.  I say “we,” but maybe I should just speak for myself here.  I know what I believe…about life and about God.  I hold to those truths in the very core of my being but sometimes things happen that put a cloud between my heart and soul, and I find myself foundering, even though I still look like I am “on track” to most people.

Difficulties are often a private thing and, as such, we try to keep on going even when we are at the end of our rope.  We push ourselves to keep performing at work.  We tell ourselves we have responsibilities to fulfill at home or even in church.  We just keep plowing ahead with a determination that is sometimes detrimental to our well-being.  We’ve told ourselves that the only way to get through something is to keep going, so we keep pushing harder and harder, even when our bodies start telling us to stop.   We start breaking down physically and mentally.  Our emotions become harder to contain and yet we just keep going!  We will do anything to keep from stopping the motion because it seems like if we stop, we will be overtaken by everything that is around us.  The thought of it pushes us even harder.  We hit the accelerator in hopes that we can just power through whatever presents itself.

And then it happens…

We come into a curve too fast and suddenly find ourselves running of the rails.  Suddenly, the damage is unavoidable and we realize we’ve lost the ability to “maintain” any longer.   We are derailed.

Recently I experienced this pattern in my own life.  Things happened that rattled my world and created troublesome situations in the most grounding areas of my life.  The unrest it created spiritually, both internally and even within my home, was something that felt too painful to withstand. shutterstock_158132312I questioned things and began to wonder not only how it all would settle down, but when.    I tried to just keep going and consciously reminded myself of the truth of God’s promises that eventually everything works out for our ultimate good.  I tried to get up and go to work and do the best job I could for a company I love, even though I felt as though it didn’t matter.  I kept up my daily routines at home and church and kept powering through the emotions that kept hitting me in the face in every realm.  I just kept going…and going.  I just wanted so badly to get through things that I hit the accelerator into a curve and went flying off the rails.  I couldn’t think.  I didn’t want to breathe.  I just wanted to crawl into a hole, curl up into a tiny little ball and hide from everything.  I just couldn’t take one more thing.  If I couldn’t stop the world around me, then my only choice was to stop myself.

Derailments are an interesting process.  They can be massive, with devastating injuries and destruction or they can be minor, with only some small adjustments needed to get the train back on track.  They can require long periods of clean-up or almost none at all.  It all depends on how far off the rails things go…or how fast you’re going when you leave the tracks.  For me, I was so concerned with getting to the end of the line that I ignored the danger signs that kept popping up in front of me.  Maybe I thought I had the ability to manage the track without adhering to the warnings.  Maybe I thought people around me would think I was weak for slowing down.  Maybe I just wanted to keep moving because I thought it’s what was expected of me.  No matter the reason, it resulted in more difficulties than it resolved and caused me to have to stop for a while to rest, regain my bearings and let God repair the track.

shutterstock_691271There are some situations in life that we cannot change.  People disappoint us or have perspectives we cannot agree with.  Our loved ones may be dealing with their own situations or derailments and it can cause distance between us for a while.  We may feel alone and even abandoned as we journey through these times, but sometimes it is exactly what we need in our own lives in order to grow and become who we are created to be.  There are some things we must all journey through alone so that we come out on the other side with a strength, understanding and courage that does not come any other way.

So if you are experiencing your own derailment, don’t beat yourself up.  Take this time to step back and rest while the track is being repaired.  Use this time to assess the situation, and yourself, so that it can actually become beneficial for you.

And if are dangerously close to derailing, look up.  Heed the warnings and proceed with caution.  If you do, you will soon find that the next sign you see is the one telling you exactly which way to go.

Blessings!

When the Words Won’t Come

I sat down several times to write a post over the past week and the words just wouldn’t come.  I thought I would have time to reflect and share things with you over the weekend but that still didn’t bring the words I sought.

lightning sky2Sometimes we have those days or weeks (or even longer) when we want so badly to express ourselves but cannot find the words to do so.  We are faced with so many different situations and emotions that our spirit seems to swirl like a massive cyclone in which we can only catch glimpses of things as they fly past.  I have longed for the eye of the storm over the past few days but instead found the cyclone swirling even faster.  It certainly makes it difficult to find words when you can’t even find footing.

It is hard to explain the sensation of feeling alone in the midst of people or trying to let go of the pains we don’t understand.  It actually hurts to not be able to find the words to express the depth of our emotions…but what hurts more is to actually have the words and not be able to say them out loud.  I think that is one of the greatest pains of all.  Those situations bring a unique kind of pain…a hurt on top of hurt…a loneliness wrapped in isolation.

 

shutterstock_150535259It is not wise to say everything you think, believe or observe, but to feel censored because of the fear of confrontation or being belittled can be challenging.  Bullies don’t always use something tangible to attack others, but the injuries are just as deep.  Whether real or perceived, these things cause us to “clam up” and curl up into the corners of our soul where words are hard to find.  I have found it impossible to try and force words to the surface when the surface is not within reach, and I have found it too painful to reach down into the depths and grab them.

Personally, I struggle to understand why some people think or do the things they think or do.  I struggle to understand why some people seem to thrive on controversy, contention or confrontation.  I struggle to understand why it hurts so much to not understand.  I struggle just like the rest of you with these things and maybe there is comfort in that fact.  Maybe it is our collective struggle to live in peace that binds some of us together.  And maybe…just maybe that makes a difference.

Since hurt is made bearable by the salve of love, I pray we all feel that love in a way that binds our wounds and helps us heal…

even when there are no words.shutterstock_154402385

Blessings!

“I Have No Life!”

shutterstock_79823446How many times have you found yourself uttering those words?  I must admit, even though I have been blessed greatly, there are days I feel like I life I have no life.  My husband and I weren’t able to have children so we haven’t ever had the camaraderie that exists between couples who attend their kid’s events, etc.  We’ve had friends who have children but over time it ended up that we were always the ones making concessions on what to do, or where to do it since it was easier for us to pick up and go somewhere than it was for others to pack up the kids and then be constantly watching the time so the kids weren’t out too late.  You would think as we got older some of this would subside but it really didn’t because it wasn’t long before our friends started having grandkids.  Once that happens, all bets are off.  Then there are the friends who seem to constantly be on the run with activities or dealing with the drama in the lives of those around them.  Whatever the circumstances, I look around me and think, “I have no life.”

It’s hard when you spend your life always trying to cater to the people around you.  Even if you do it by choice out of sincere love for them, there are days when it can wear on you.  For me, I have this thing about not being a burden to others or infringing on their time and such.  I want the people around me to enjoy life to the fullest and, as a result, don’t want to interrupt their busy days or keep them from doing something else they have planned.  Of course, then I sit at home by myself and start feeling sad because it seems more and more that I don’t fit into their schedules…even though they would normally welcome the “interruption” and be glad to connect.  It may sound like I’m whining, but hang with me for a few more minutes.girlfriends

When you look at other people and it seems they are living life to the fullest, it can be difficult to realize that it also feels as though you are not important enough for them to make time for you.  Whether it is the truth or not doesn’t really matter because perception can be a powerful thing in our lives.  Is it really that they don’t have time for us or is it simply that we keep trying so hard to not be demanding or selfish that we fall over ourselves in order to feel totally alone?  It seems so counterproductive!  So what is it that makes us look at others and think they don’t care enough about us to initiate conversations or activities?  These are the times we need to stop and look within.  I’m not saying there aren’t people who will take advantage of you or take everything you are willing to give them without ever giving it a second thought, but more often than not, the problem rests within us and not with them.

For most women, we are taught that we should not get angry or upset.  We are taught to be agreeable and always put others first.  We are also taught this as Christians.  (“Prefer one another.” “Love your neighbor as yourself.”) silence Everywhere we look we seem to get the message that wanting or needing something for ourselves is selfish.  We are taught that standing up for what is right for us is selfish.  We are taught that our needs are less important than the needs of others.  This thinking is hammered into our brains over and over in life and then we wonder why we feel so drained.  We find ourselves feeling unimportant or even used by the people in our lives.  The truth is that our wants and needs are important too!  It doesn’t make you a bad person if you choose to pursue the things in life that make you happy.  It doesn’t make you a terrible Christian if you say “no”sometimes to people or activities that deplete your energy.  It doesn’t make you selfish to stand up for yourself and be who you are created to be, which includes respecting your own needs and desires!  It doesn’t mean you are the center of the universe, but it does mean that in order for you to be the best you can be, you have to learn to feed yourself.

“Give a man a fish and he eats for a day.  Teach him to fish and he eats for a lifetime.”  We’ve all heard that quote but look at it from this perspective:  If you constantly rely on someone else to make you feel loved, then you will feel loved only for a short while.  If you learn to love yourself and be kind and gentle with yourself first, then you will feel loved for a lifetime.  We need to stop looking to the world around us to make us feel like we “have a life.”  We need to simply step up to the plate and CREATE the life we desire.

If that means burning the old tapes repeatedly playing in our heads that tell us we are selfish for taking care of ourselves, then strike a match and let’s watch them burn!

fire

Blessings!