A Word on Suffering

Today I was listening to Christian radio and heard theses words by Oswald Chambers regarding suffering:

{Rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings. —1 Peter 4:13}

“If you are going to be used by God, He will take you through a multitude of experiences that are not meant for you at all, they are meant to make you useful in His hands, and to enable you to understand what transpires in other souls so that you will never be surprised at what you come across.”

Although I think that somewhere deep in my soul, I knew this, and I am pretty sure that at some point or another, other people have said this to me, today was the day that I was ready to understand it and accept it.  Maybe my heart was finally ready or maybe Chambers’ phrasing was perfect.  But it gave me so much peace!

I tend to respond to difficulties in a few different ways and often I fluctuate in my responses to the same situation.  One moment I suffer in self-pity.  I wonder why God has put this difficulty on me and why others seem to sail through life without the same issue.  In other words, I am grumbling about a painful thorn in my side and doubting that God’s grace is actually sufficient.

Another moment, the perfectionist pleaser in me wonders what it is that I need to learn.  Surely God gave me this heartache to teach me something!  Is there some sin in my life that I haven’t dealt with?  Am I prideful?  Am I lacking in faith?  The words of Job’s friends echo in my own soul and I condemn myself of hidden iniquities.

There are times I resign myself to a sort of acceptance where I figure God wants to be glorified through this hard thing. How can I respond in a way that glorifies Him?  Joy in the sorrow?  Praise in the storm?

But all three of my responses are about ME.  —-YUCK!  When I realized this, I was overcome with repulsion and shame.  Chambers points out that many of the hard things that I go through aren’t about me!!!!!  They’re not even about how I can glorify Him (after all, even that is about me and my response).  In fact, the hardships and heartaches that I have experienced have given me a depth of empathy for those around me who hurt.

When a broken woman tells me she has had a miscarriage, I know what comfort it brings to have another woman whisper, “I have lost little ones, too.”

When a beautiful sister in Christ tells me she is struggling with a dark depression, I offer prayers and phone calls from someone who understands that sometimes there is nothing we can do about the darkness but cling to a loving God.

Just recently a precious friend and her two precious little ones had a stomach virus and then a terrible flu– back to back. One after the other.  Bless their hearts…..I nearly cried remembering the winter that I had two little ones (one still nursing, just like my friend’s baby) and we fought off illnesses and viruses non-stop.  I remember lying in bed and wondering if I was dead or alive.  I remembered my own moments and so I remembered to check up on my friend, brought soup to her door step (I love her but I was NOT going in there!), prayed faithfully, and offered sympathy.  I wouldn’t have known how much those things meant if I hadn’t had my own days of being a sick mama to sick babies.

God does not want us to be put off by the hard things in this life.  In other’s lives or our own.  There is sin and horribleness all around in our broken world. We shouldn’t try to run from it.  It may not be possible to embrace it, but to know that if God allows me to go through it, I must not worry so much about the “me” part as much as the “God” part.  It still hurts; I will still probably struggle through stages of my sinful reactions, but at the end (or in the midst) of the battle, may I be used.

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Working it out

There are times in my life when my faith is weak.  I earnestly pray and figure God isn’t listening.  Or He needs some help.  Or convincing.  I get in the business of “doing” instead of “trusting.”  I have learned that it isn’t my faith or my lack of faith that makes things possible.  There are times when my faith is so, so small and yet God in His mercy makes a way.  It’s not my faith (weak and willy nilly as it can be) that makes things possible.  It’s not my “take charge and get ‘er done” attitude that makes things possible.  It is only the Lord who makes things possible.  The One whom I need to surrender to.

Last summer I found myself in a small tizzy.  We had begun the very serious conversation of planning to homeschool our then-four-year-old when she was kindergarten age.  My husband continued to make use of a spare bedroom as his office and our two other bedrooms were feeling tight.  By early fall I became convinced that we would need a new home within the next year in order to provide for the space needs of our family.  I honestly couldn’t comprehend how else we could make all of this work.  I began praying in earnest.  We even looked at a home that seemed SOOOO perfect.  But the more we considered the other options available, our current financial standing, and our uncertainty of where we were supposed to be living at all, we decided to just sit and wait.  As things slowed down for my husband’s business for a couple of months, I was grateful that we had remained where I still felt discontent.  And slowly, as I surrendered more and more of what qualified as a need and as a strong desire in heart, God began to take it away altogether.  Where it seemed like God was being a withholding Father, I realized that I was merely being a short-sided and selfish child.

What areas in your life are lacking faith in?  Your finances?  Your future?  Your marriage?  Your children?  The absence of one of those?  If you are like me, the areas in your life where you are doubting God’s ability to care for and provide for you are exactly the areas where you need to surrender to Him.   I’d love to be praying for you if you’d like to share where you are struggling right now.

Spring

Spring is a rather precarious thing in the northern landscape of the Midwest.  It arrives.  The birds return and begin to sing the promises of a warm sun and blue sky.  The wind seems to blow relentlessly, lest we forget that we are in that in-between season.  My husband reminds me each time the thermometer outdoors climbs over 60, “It is still going to snow!  It always snows in April.”  My mom looks at the buds on the trees and tsks, “The scary thing is that it could still freeze!” (love ya, Mom….)  I confess that these kind souls are wise to remind me of what may be in wait for us…..I fall into the habit of longing for warm rays of sunshine and green grass and falling into a mild spring funk when the skies go gray and that wind becomes bitterly cold.  Do pray for me if snow dares to fall yet this season.

But it is all good.  Stormy weather may swirl around us and frightful cold may grip us, but God is good and all that He gives us is somehow, in His beautifully unfathomable way, good. The book of James begins with a rather gloomy exhortation to “consider it pure joy…when you face trials of many kinds.”  Not just if you face trials, not when you face the trial, but when you face trials.  Just a few sentences later:

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

James 1:17

Spring is here…..whether that means sunshine, snow, or wind.  And it is good.

A Case of the “If Only’s”

“But godliness with contentment is great gain.”  1 Timothy 6:6

Not only are godliness and contentment things that Christ exemplified (and therefore we should strive for), the Apostle Paul tells us that having them are of great gain.  And like all good things, we need to work to receive them.  In Philippians 4:11, Paul tells us that he has learned to be content in all circumstances.

On the same day that Emily over at Chatting at the Sky used her “Tuesdays Unwrapped” to talk about finding the extraordinary in the ordinary (specifically today, by being thankful), I read a chapter from an older book called, “Living on Less and Liking It More.” I understood what the author meant when she said that often we are not quite content, but think that we could be “if only _____________.”  You know that old exercise that keeps us always on the verge of contentment.  I do it all the time.  “My house would be just right if only I had a real dining room.”  “I’d be content with who I am and the way I look if only I had a nicer smile.”  “If only my husband made a few more thousand dollars every year, we would be more comfortable.”  There are times in my life where my list of “if only’s” is so long, I am eons away from contentment.  And then I bully myself with the final “if only”:  “I’d be happier if only I could be more content!”  Right?!  Right!

Well, Paul told us in Philippians that we have to learn how to be content.  For me, that means beating down every “if only” that comes my way and surrendering myself and my life over to God again and again.  It also means practicing the art of gratitude.  Thankfulness.  For the little things, the ordinary.  My daughter turned five this week, so over the weekend we threw a small and simple party at our home.  A few friends, some singing and music, a couple of games, and some food.  My daughter was overjoyed.  She enjoyed this simple day with her friends.  She wasn’t thinking “If only my mom had this party catered.  If only we had a bigger house and I could have had more friends come.  If only we had cooler decorations.”  She was happy and delighted in the moment.

Like so many spiritual disciplines and godly character traits, contentment is something that I will only achieve through practice, focus, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  I read of a woman who keep a daily journal of gratitude.  Every day, no matter how difficult or disappointing the day, she recorded at least one thing that she was thankful for.  Something that revealed our extraordinary God in even ordinary circumstances.  Today I am thankful for relationships that are restored and renewed by God’s grace.  I am thankful for my family.  I am thankful for bright sun that warms my face.  I am thankful for answers to prayer.  And yes, I am thankful for two sleepy little girls who went to bed at 6:30pm tonight…..giving me hours to catch up on whatever I need to catch up on.  Like learning how to be content…..  🙂

The Good Stuff

Often I use blogging as a journal–to get out all the stuff that adds up.  So I blog about the tough stuff.  But I really want to spend time thinking of the good things in my life….the ways I feel blessed, the ways God is growing me, the ways that He provides.  Today is a good day to do that–not because it was any better than any other day, but because it was just as normal as any other day.

I feel blessed by friendships.  Sometimes I go through lonely seasons, but lately God is giving me eyes to see all the amazing people I have in my life–family included!  I’m really blessed by friends that I am totally undeserving of.  Ladies that care for me in little ways, people that pray for me, friends who are there to listen and offer sound and godly wisdom.  SO thankful.

I am happy to say that while I feel like my life is frantic (which makes me grumpy), at the same time I have been feeling more content than ever with my life, my family, what I have, what I don’t have, who I am, who I’m not……it is a good place to be.  When I’m content, I find myself surprised by unexpected things (blessedly surprised because I wasn’t sitting around thinking of how much I wanted those things!).  As an example for you women out there who are wives: when I love my husband unconditionally and accept him for who he is (ahem, when I’m CONTENT!), I discover him to be more thoughtful, sweet, and considerate than if I’d been busy thinking of all the ways he could be a more sensitive or considerate husband.  When I am happy with who he is, I find myself blessed beyond measure by him.

Dictionary.com defines content in the following way:

adjective

1. satisfied with what one is or has; not wanting more or anything else.

Strangely in a season of contentment (but not really strange at all when I think of how the Lord works), I also have been blessed by provisions lately.  Both things that I need and things that surpass my needs–truly blessings out of God’s abundant riches and mercies.  He has given me strength and energy when I am struggling to get through a busy day.  Perseverance in challenging situations.  Every day and every week and every month, I recognize how blessed I am to have the Lord provide for my daily physical needs…a home, food, clothing, transportation.  Recently we were blessed with provisions to buy a new ‘fridge in our kitchen.  Things that we could so easily take for granted (and sometimes I certainly do!), but things for which I do know I should be so, so thankful for.

And this week’s greatest good thing: a turnaround with my children.   They’ve been going through a tough stage–sickness and then yucky attitudes and actions…..discouraging things.  But thank the Lord that we have had a good week….a reminder that we do not, as parents, press on in vain, but that we press on towards a goal.  Seeing some fruits (both of our labors and of the Spirit!) in my young children is such a gift.

Jill Phillips has a song that I love….“The Good Things.” I listen to it and remember that I have so much to be grateful for and that so many of the difficult things I go through are changing me in ways that I cannot conceive right now, but changing me for good.  That’s the good stuff, folks.

Situation, Situation….Why the Frustration?

Perhaps what we don’t realize is that it’s not so much the situations that we are praying for that He is concerned about, but instead our hearts and our willingness to accept what He is doing in our lives.

I read this over at (In)Courage in a recent post.  Not exactly the thing we always want to hear, especially when we’re in the midst of a “situation.”  Especially when we’re in a “situation” that we want changed NOW!  Have mercy, Lord!  Give me a chance!  Give me a break!  You know you’ve been there.  Or maybe you’re there right now.  “Situations” make up a good part of our lives and personally, a big part of the frustrations I feel.

Sometimes I think it’s easy to cling to some Christian clichés when we’re in a tight spot….the ones that tell us that God will provide for our every “need” (I use the quotations as a reminder that some “needs” are not needs–you know what I’m talking about!), or that God doesn’t want us to suffer, or that God has plans for us–big plans, of course!  None of those clichés are wrong or unscriptural.   I think we just use them sometimes and we miss the point.  Maybe God isn’t providing what we want, perhaps He is allowing us to go through a tough time, and the plans He has for us, well….we may want nothing to do with them!  Sometimes I get so busy trying to pray my way out of a certain situation (or simply into a favorable one) that I miss what God is really trying to get at through it.

A situation is just that to God–a circumstance, an earthly condition.  In light of situations I have gone through, I can look back and see how God was working out the condition of my soul and heart.  Often the situation didn’t change, in spite of earnest prayers.  Some situations just faded away over a long span of time.  Some did change in a way that I didn’t expect.  Some remain, but no longer have a grip on me.  I still pray my heart out to God in the midst of situations that I want changed.  I know that He can turn situations on their heads, but I’m also learning that I need to be ready to get turned upside down myself.  We’re not fooling anyone, especially God–we’ve all got a lot of junk to work out and get rid of.  I don’t think God will stop at anything to get us in a place where we can be all that He wants us to be.

Still Standing

Rock ‘n Roll’s Life Advice

My hubby and I would probably both agree that one of our favorite Tom Petty songs is “I Won’t Back Down.”  At one point in our lives, it was probably due to the fact that we were both a little hard-headed or stubborn, if you will. Marriage, maturity, and God have all had a hand in softening up those hard edges, but something about this song still strikes a chord in me.  Recently I was out running and listening to it on my mp3 player.  I thought of it as such a literal way we should face life.

Well, I won’t back down, no I won’t back down. You could stand me up at the gates of hell but I won’t back down. Gonna stand my ground, won’t be turned around. And I’ll keep this world from dragging me down. Gonna stand my ground, and I won’t back down.

Spiritual Truths

I think of the spiritual weapons we are told to use in Ephesians: the shield of faith, the breastplate of righteousness, the sword of the Spirit, the helmet of salvation, and the belt of truth.  I remember a friend pointing out, “There’s nothing to protect your backside!  You better stand and fight the devil–you better not run!”  I’ve thought of that so many times in life.  We are to flee evil, but when it comes to the enemy attacking us, we better just hunker down and fight.

Life throws us things we don’t expect and things we feel unprepared for.  Sometimes we actually feel like we are being attacked on every side….in our family, in our friendships, in our career, in our reputation, etc.  Don’t back down.  There are times when life has me down, beaten down, laying prone before God and crying out.  But I have learned to not back down in the sense of running away.  I have learned that it is okay to be down, but to pray for the strength to stand back up again and literally stand my ground.

When Life Gives Us a Chance to Stand

In the last couple of years I’ve struggled with feeling depressed.  I have rarely lost the will to carry on or to face a new day, but I would say that I haven’t been operating at full capacity for a long, long time.  The last six months have been heart-breaking, soul-crushing at times.  A good friend was unexpectedly taken home to the Lord.  In the wide wake of grief, friendships changed and some even became broken.  My husband and I truly felt hard-pressed on every side at times.  Even my dh’s business slowed down and we found ourselves living on not much more than faith.  Loneliness, grief, fear, and insecurity gripped me on a daily basis.  On my knees, so many times in tears, I felt so broken, but I also felt a small little faith deep in my soul that kept me holding my ground.  I knew that everything that Satan wanted to use for evil, God would turn for good–and not just my good, but more importantly, the Lord’s good will and purpose.  I knew that God was working out my character, allowing me to be broken in order to rebuild me for good.  I felt what I felt (the things that kept me in tears), but I also knew what I knew (which kept me from backing down).

Some circumstances have begun to turn, others have not.  I am sure that there will be days that bring me back down again, but I am so thankful that I am able to say that the darkness has lifted and the light has begun pouring in.  Last week I felt better than I honestly have in two years.  I felt happiness and determination and pleasure in ways that I had forgotten.   I enjoyed my children more than I have in years.  I am mortified to think I have gone this long without truly treasuring them.  I’ve lacked selflessness in my marriage and perspective in relationships.  How grateful I am that Christ strengthens us and empowers us in every situation.  How thankful I am to be on the other side of the darkness.  How glad I am that faith, while it didn’t keep me from falling, it kept me from turning around and turning away.

Award Worthy

Do you ever feel like you deserve a medal?  You know in your mind that you will probably receive no acclamation or reward for what you’ve done, but darn it, you should.  Maybe you’ve calmly cleaned up a child’s vomit all day long and even had the strength to offer some comfort and compassion to the poor dear.  Maybe you cooked up a fantastic meal AND kept your toddlers from killing each other or even fighting with each other.  Totally Mom of the Year type stuff.  Maybe you don’t have children yet, but you still do some award worthy things.  Like refrain from yelling at the guy who cut you off in rush hour, causing you to spill your coffee.  Or you answer to your boss pleasantly all day and even bite your tongue when your co-workers are doing some back-biting.  Maybe it is something as simple and yet as challenging as fighting the urge to wear a zip-up sweatshirt.  We feel like we deserve recognition and yet of course know in our hearts that recognition is not what we should be after.

Today I starched and ironed a bedskirt.


And as I ironed, I thought, “I should get an award for this.  I have NEVER ironed a bed skirt (even if this skirt has needed it for the two years I’ve owned it).”  I know I’m no more domestic or worthy of praise than any other woman.  I’m not the first person to get out the starch for bed clothes.  I know of a woman who irons her sheets and underwear. Next to her, I’m a stay-at-home-bum.  But today I felt like someone should give me a pat on the back or a high five.  At least.

Ladies, in life we are not always going to get credit for the things we do.  Someone might not even notice the sacrifices or heroic deeds that we accomplish in a day.  Do it unto the Lord.  Know that your hard work and selflessness will be recognized for what they are someday.  And for today, let’s share in each other’s accomplishments.  Share what amazing thing you did today!  I want to give you props, even if no one else credits your hard work.

Looking Youthful

I’m not getting any younger–are any of us?  The big 3-0 hit a couple of years ago, if that says anything.  I’m not particularly bothered by my age and rarely worry if I’m looking older.  I confess that I dyed my hair for the very first time a couple of months ago.  The grays weren’t taking over, but there were enough to make me thing it was time to make a change.  I use eye cream once a day, a practice I didn’t even know existed 10 years ago. So I guess that there are a few little things I do to help me age gracefully, but really, as you’ll see from my representation of my essential beauty products, that my life is hardly centered around beauty treatments.  I mean, Carmex counts as one of my “beauty essentials.”

No, this post really isn’t going to offer you a lot of useful information on what beauty treatments keep a lady looking young.  In fact, while my physical body may not scream “youth”, I still have had some blessed souls lately mistake me for a much younger woman than I am.  (They deserved kisses, but I didn’t want to lose any of the Carmex I had freshly slathered on my lips.)  I think that beauty and youth are the kinds of things that don’t come from the outside….it is obviously the things of our spirit and personality that shine through the wrinkles and saddlebags.   So here are my top ten ways to stay young:

*Laugh.  At good jokes.  Smile at bad ones.  Laugh at yourself and let others laugh at you, too.  People that take themselves too seriously look about 15 years older than they are.  Lighten up.

*Be active.  Not just for your health, but for joy.  DO something that makes you happy and release some more endorphins.  Dance, run, bike, build a snowman.  Do it alone for peace, do it with a friend or your child for a smile.

*Wear something totally inappropriate for your age once in awhile.  If you are over 30 and can pull off skinny jeans, do it.  If you can’t pull off skinny jeans (I count myself in this category at the moment), be sure to wear some rockin’ heels once in awhile with a funky pair of jeans.  If you try to dress too young all the time, you’re just a wannabe who can’t age gracefully.  If you do it once in awhile, it makes you feel like a rock star and kind of knocks everyone else’s socks off, too.

*Be nice.  Duh.  Be optimistic.  Crabby people are a drag to be around and they make me feel old just being around them.  Gross.

*Grow in grace and favor with the Lord and with people.  A woman who isn’t growing in this category is like last year’s fashion.  People get bored of it quickly and eventually it becomes just plain ugly.

*Hang out with teenagers once in awhile.  Do it all the time and again, you kind of look like a wannabe.  But having relationships with people who are in a totally different stage of life keep you in touch and on your toes.   Plus teenagers keep me humble and remind me what a nerd I am.  See my first tip.

*Spend time with women who are older than you.  Learn something from them.

*Do things with a good attitude, especially things you don’t like doing.   When someone asks you to do something you’re not a big fan of (for me: any winter activity, watching a sci-fi movie, going shopping, eating at a boring restaurant), say “Sure!” and make yourself enjoy it.  You’ll bless them and I guarantee you’ll always have more fun than you anticipated.

*Love the people in your life.  Smile at them, encourage them, hug them.

*Be content.  You’ve got what you’ve got–enjoy it.  You are who you are–work it.

Look young, my friends!  And stock up on the chapstick during these winter months!  🙂

In This Moment

There was a time when I first became a mother that part of me held back from feeling true fulfillment in my new role.  It wasn’t that I didn’t love my new daughter; it wasn’t even that I didn’t love the new role.  Granted there were transitions that were challenging, but overall, I really relished being a mom and I even celebrated the day I was able to quit my job and stay at home full-time.  But part of me was holding back.  Hanging on to something other than what was before me.

I have watched women, mothers, who become completely lost when their children grow up and leave home.  I saw their very identity, which had been so wrapped up in motherhood and their children, crumble.  They were confused, hurt, sometimes even hurtful to the children that were “abandoning” them.  It was appalling for me to see this and I promised myself that I would never be that woman.  I would never wrap up so much of my identity in one role that I would fall to pieces when it was time for that role to change.

So I held back.  I loved my daughter and I joyfully welcomed another baby daughter into our family a couple of years later.  I loved her and yet I really think part of me held back again.  I tried to maintain things that were a different part of my identity.  I ran a marathon, I spent a lot of time with friends, I participated in Bible Studies, I tried to find ministry avenues that had nothing to do with my young children.  I realize now that I was missing out.  I was so busy trying to be ME that I forgot to be Christ to the other people in my life–my husband and my children.

My identity should never be built on something as flimsy as a role, a hobby, a passion.  My identity needs to be in Christ alone.  Part of accepting that identity is fully throwing myself into whatever he has called me to do.  I have no doubt that my husband and I were called to be parents.  It doesn’t mean that we’re the best at it, it means that it has been given to us and we are to taken it seriously.  I’m not sure what changed in my mind and my heart, but just lately I have found myself appreciating this stage in my life more than ever before.  I find myself truly wanting to grow in Christ in order to be a more effective parent.  I swell with joy when I see God touching my girls’ hearts.  I think I quit holding back.  And dang, it feels good!  There really is something to losing yourself in order to gain something greater.

I no longer worry about or fear how I may react when the day comes for me to relinquish a bit of my parenting role.  I think being wrapped up in our identity in Christ means fully appreciating where we have been called to minister and serve–whether that is a humble position or a glorious and famous position.  I am not holding back anymore and I am giving in to the joy of this moment.