Category: Endurance

Why Life’s Pressure Points Are Some of the Greatest Gifts

 

There’s a giant sycamore tree by the creek. My hands are feet from touching when I try to reach around its pale bark in some sort of earthen embrace.  What captivates me most about this tree isn’t its size; I’m most captivated by the angle at which the giant grows.  It leans at close to a 45-degree slant, deeply rooted in the earth and dropping yellow leaves far into the creek.

The tree is along the path we take when we hike behind the house, and it’s a reminder of several spiritual truths in my life:

Be Careful about Judging What You Don’t Understand

The creek is lined with dozens of straight-standing sycamores. They are gallant and honorable.  Their bark shines silver in the autumn sunshine, and they bear the glory of their Maker.  Interestingly, not one of these trees is as large as the slanting sycamore.

One by one, we’ve watched as the tall, straight trees topple to the ground in violent wind storms and crash, uprooted, in microbursts that rip through the valley. Somehow, the slanting giant remains firmly rooted, bearing fruit in season, year after year.

I’d be quick to label this tree less worthy than its straight counterparts. But time has proven that this tree is deeply rooted.  This reminds me to be careful not to judge what I might not fully understand.  What’s visible on the outside doesn’t often tell the whole story.

In the same way, man looks at outward appearances, but the Lord looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). We’re wise to remember these words.

Everyone’s Journey to God is Different

Something about trees reaching toward the sky reminds me of seeking the Lord. This tree reminds me that we’re all on a journey toward knowing God more, and no one fully arrives until we see him face to face.  While there are pivotal moments along the way – black and white moments of decision – no two paths look exactly the same.

The friend who has very little conception of God is at a different place along the journey. We’re called to walk with one another, encouraging one another to draw closer.  And just as no two trees in the forest are exactly the same, no two paths are ever identical.

Adversity Produces Strength

I’m not sure what caused the giant sycamore to lean as it does, but it’s safe to say that this tree faced adversity that caused it to grow sideways. It’s often the most difficult trials of life that strengthen our character most.  Hard times hold the potential to shape us into the image of our Creator.

The financial struggles, the seasons of illness, the lost jobs, and the shattered dreams hurt. They also strengthen us and conform us to the image of the One who endured hardship for us.

The Call to be Set Apart is a Gift

We’ve often walked the trail past the sycamore and noticed other hikers standing in its shade, marveling at its slant, and sitting at its base. This tree stands out among the other trees of the forest.  It is set apart.

Sometimes the call to be set apart in our lives feels too difficult. Saying no to things others deem acceptable and standing firm in a shifting culture isn’t easy.  But the call to be set apart isn’t meant to be a burden.  It’s meant to be a gift.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss writes: “I learned early on that to be ‘set apart’ is not a punishment; it is not an attempt on God’s part to deprive us or to condemn us to a cheerless, joyless lifestyle.  It is a priceless privilege – it is a call to belong, to be cherished, to enter into an intimate love relationship with God Himself, much as a groom declares his intent to set his bride apart from all other women to be his beloved wife; to fit into the grand, eternal plan of our redeeming God for this universe; to experience the exquisite joys and purposes for which we were created; to be freed from all that destroys our true happiness.”

And so, as the tree slants hard, I remind myself that the pressure points of life are often the greatest gifts of all.

Reference:   Holiness, The Heart God Purifies, Moody Publishers, p. 33-34.

 

 

Thanks to Arabah Joy, Kelly Balarie, and Missional Woman for sharing this post!

https://arabahjoy.com/category/grace-truth-linky/

http://missionalwoman.com/

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Six Promises for When You Feel Abandoned by God

 

Caleb stirs from his nap with red eyes and a cowlick that stands straight up in salute to the sun or praise to God – I’m not sure which. I always wondered why mothers of boys let their little ones run wild in public with hair sticking out in every direction.  Now I understand.  Little boy hair does whatever it wishes, and no amount of water, saliva, mousse, or hairspray can tell it otherwise.

We descend to the living room, and the slow and painful process of his awakening takes place as I hold him on my lap. We read books and watch blue jays on the lawn.  We’re half way through Corduroy’s saga of the lost button when Darrell’s white truck pulls into the driveway, and Caleb’s off my lap in seconds, pounding on the window to welcome his father onto the property after a long day.

After the welcome hugs and cheers, I kiss the guys goodbye and slip into my walking shoes for a little bit of time out of the house. Like clockwork, Caleb erupts into primal screams.  “No!  Don’t leave me, Mama,” he yells.  “Don’t leave me!”

“I’ll be back in a half-hour,” I assure him, but he’ll have none of it.

I come back from every walk, and yet he fears this might be the one time when I don’t return. I kiss him on the head again and leave, despite the crying.  It’s best to just get on with it.

Walking down the road, I’m struck by the parallels between my son’s thoughts and my own thoughts. I recall a dozen times when it felt like the Lord had completely forsaken me: that race I lost, that bad breakup, Bekah’s medical condition, forty weeks of sickness – twice, the day the car broke down at the bridal shop with my baby girl screaming in the backseat, and more.

Things don’t go my way, and I’m prone to find myself wavering. I’m prone to wonder.  Prone to leave the God I love.  But his promise is this: “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).  Why do I, like little Caleb, doubt that he means what he says?

I think long on this as I walk, and I list the promises for the hard times:

God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28).

Nothing can separate me from his love (Romans 8:38-39).

He will go with me through the high waters and the fires (Isaiah 43:2).

He won’t withhold what is good from me (Psalm 84:11).

He is close to those who are brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18).

He will use these fiery trials for his glory (1 Peter 1:6-7).

I’m suddenly struck by the reality that I often live like I don’t believe these promises. I live like they count for the struggles and trials of others but not for my own.  What if I actually lived like I fully believed every word that proceeds from his mouth?

I would have less fear and a greater capacity to love. I would give freely and store up fewer treasures on earth.  I would encounter an abundant kind of life that I’ve been craving all along.

Returning home, Caleb has forgotten about the meltdown that took place when I walked out the door. He’s chasing his dad and his sister around the yard with delighted squeals.  I kiss him on the head and go inside to finish cooking dinner.  The comfort of resting in these promises feels like an invitation to sheer joy.

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This post was shared as a part of a link-up at Fresh Market Friday.

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When There Are Cliffs on Both Sides

 

The cold mountain wind rips at me like the dead of winter, while the sun scorches my chapped hands with desert-like heat. I spit gritty sand – miniscule molecules of the beige granite surrounding me – and continue my ascent. Glancing upward, I’m only sixty yards from the summit. Sixty grueling yards of rough rock outcroppings and sheer drop-offs of over 1,000 feet.

I’ve barely begun the decade of my twenties, and I’m certain I’m invincible. Certain I’ve figured out most of what I’ll need to know for life. I have no idea.

I claw my way to the summit of the 12,000-foot mountain and lie flat in the flogging wind, the bandana in my hair whipping like sheets on a clothesline. It’s my day off work at AWLS, the wilderness leadership school where I’m spending my summer. Climbing mountains is my greatest passion in life, and I can think of nothing that would ever be more important. I have so much to learn.

I stare at MacLeod Lake, over a thousand feet below, and I plan my descent. There’s no easy way. There’s only a narrow ridge with sheer drop-offs on each side. I’ll have to risk it.

~~~

Much to my parents’ relief, I survived my summer in Wyoming’s mountains. I’m a little embarrassed as I look back at my unwise risks and poorly discerned decisions, but I thank God I’m not the person I was. This all came to mind this morning, as I opened my Bible to my daily reading plan.

Chapter 14 of first Samuel finds King Saul’s son, Jonathan, preparing to advance on the Philistines. Verse 4 reads: “Between the passes by which Jonathan sought to cross over to the Philistines’ garrison, there was a sharp crag on the one side and a sharp crag on the other side, and the name of the one was Bozez, and the name of the other Seneh.”

Jonathan needed to make forward progress to achieve his goal, but he found himself in a precarious situation. He needed to cross a mountain pass with a sharp crag on each side of the pass. I can relate.

The Hebrew word “Bozez” refers to something that is gleaming or slippery. The word “Seneh” means thorny. On one side he faced a steep slope of thorns. On the other, a dangerously slippery descent.

Despite the risks, Jonathan pressed forward, advanced against the Philistines, and overtook them. He braved the thorns and the drop-off, and he pressed forward toward his goal. Because I’ve climbed many mountains, the analogy strikes me poignantly: When the journey grows perilous, keep your eyes on the goal and keep walking.

Jonathan’s goal was to overtake the Philistines. My goal at age twenty was reaching a literal summit. Our goal as followers of Christ is to love him and make his love known to others.

The lesson from Jonathan’s journey is relevant, regardless of the goal. Whether I’m aiming to start a business, hoping to overcome the pain of a past heartbreak, wading through the deep waters of troubled relationships, trying to parent with love and compassion, or seeking healing in a difficult matter, I do well to keep my eyes on the goal and keep walking.

The slippery slope of fear will threaten to take me down. The thorny path of painful self-sacrifice, slow progress, and failure will threaten to stop my progress. But I do well to keep my eyes on the goal and press forward.

I’m thankful for the author of Hebrews, who reminds me exactly where to fix my eyes when things get tough: “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2). If Jesus could endure the cross on my behalf, I can endure this trial on his behalf.

Wherever life has you walking a delicate chasm between a thorny downfall and a long slippery slope, be encouraged by Jonathan. Keep stepping forward. It will be worth the journey.

 

 

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Three Things to Remember in the Valley

 

I slip to the woods on a Saturday evening after groceries and prescriptions and new socks for littlest one. The ground is soft and muddied with footprints of dog walkers and bird watchers. I immediately see why they came. The sinking sun blinds me to the west, but to the east, the ponds reflect perfect paintings of cobalt skies and grey hills – hills on the brink of bursting into glory, hills that are waiting for redemption.

I walk long through the mud and embrace the patches of soft grass that clean my shoes and offer traction. Geese linger in a pond to the south, and I follow the winding valley to its deepest place –where the sun hides behind the hills, and the darkness of night has already descended.

I’ve always been captivated by the shadows cast by mountains. Summers spent in Wyoming’s granite canyons bore witness to sun scorched peaks that stared down at the dark valley for hours. I lived in the valley, and I longed for the warmth of the morning sun each day. I missed the sunsets over Plain Grove’s hayfields and grew accustomed to watching the sun fade behind mountains early in the evenings to the west.

The geese are speaking words of warning about my presence as I tread farther along the path – less worn this far from the parking area. I pull my hood over my ears and hide my hands in my sleeves. It’s cool in the shade of the valley. Sitting on a rock at my turn-around point, I stare at the still water, look up at the illuminated hilltops, and consider the valleys of my life. I consider the hardest stretches, the darkest times, and the most painful trials. A few truths come to mind – truths for the valleys:

You are not alone

Some valleys exist solely on the precept of feeling alone. We believe we are alone, and the isolation of the season creates the valley. Feeling misunderstood, betrayed, abandoned, or without support leads us to feel alone, and there seems to be little hope for escaping the valley. Not that anyone cares.

The truth for this valley is this: “God will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6). I generally wish God’s presence felt more tangible. I need to remind myself that just because I don’t see him or tangibly feel him, this doesn’t mean he’s not present. He walks with me through every valley, and he will never leave me.

This will be used for good

God holds the power to use all situations for good in the lives of those who love him. Some of my hardest valleys have taught me to be grateful for seasons of health and “normal” living. Some of the darkest valleys have helped me make better decisions in the future. Some of my most painful valleys have made the sunshine on mountaintops far more glorious than they would have been without a climb from the deepest place.

Our valleys are used to comfort others

Most of our valleys hold the power to comfort others who go through the same struggles. The hard breakups of my teen years later enabled me to mentor teens walking through the same trials. The difficult days of my pregnancies enabled me to comfort friends going through the same struggles. The challenges at my job gave me empathy to encourage others who are in difficult situations in the workplace. God uses our valleys to comfort others in their valleys.

If life has led you to a valley today, be encouraged. You are not alone. Keep clinging to the One who won’t let you go.

*On an entirely unrelated note, I’m writing at one of my favorite parenting sites this week: Your Budding Biologist Should Hatch Frog Eggs This Spring.  And right on time, our deck is now home to one large tank of hopeful bullfrog eggs.

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When You’re Stuck in a Pit

 

It’s maple syrup season. I didn’t know maple syrup had a season until about ten years ago, when Darrell took me to the smoky barn of a farmer in Sullivan County. In the far corner of his barn, a huge stove held the biggest pan I’d ever seen. The pan contained gallons of sap from surrounding maple trees, liquid slowly boiling off to leave smoky sweet syrup coveted by pancake eaters across the nation.

Syrup season comes when the first signs of a winter thaw bring afternoons that are well above freezing and nights that continue to dip low on the thermometer. About five years ago, Darrell decided to undertake the pastime of collecting and boiling sap in a stove he built near our garage. It’s a fascinating process. He spends long nights stirring his syrup under the light of the moon and collects hundreds of gallons of sap for the process. It takes about forty gallons of sap to create one gallon of syrup. That’s a lot of cooking.

What’s all this have to do with being stuck in a pit?

Syrup season hits at the same time of year when the lull of winter has worn many of us down. We find ourselves in the low place that comes from too much cold, too much darkness, and too little movement. It feels like a pit. I get it because I find myself somewhere on the fringes of the pit every year when syrup season hits.

Last week I wrote about the value of simply doing the next thing during hard times. This week I felt led to share a handful of strategies that get me through the last lingering months of winter. These ideas uplift me when I’m stuck in a hard season. They breathe life into my soul when I’m struggling. I hope they are an encouragement to you as well.

Put something fun on the calendar

Knowing there’s something to look forward to is essential in boosting morale. It doesn’t have to be a huge event; it simply needs to be something you enjoy. When winter starts to get me down, Darrell often encourages me to go to the woods on a Saturday afternoon. We plan it a month in advance. A long walk in the woods, a little bit of time lingering by a creek, and even an hour in my car with worship music refreshes me. Some of us are refreshed by an afternoon at a coffee shop with a good book, a long visit with an old friend, or an evening out in the city. I find that simply having something enjoyable to anticipate is deeply satisfying and helps pull me out of the pit.

Spend a few minutes outside

Even if it’s cold, even if it requires bundling up, some time under the open sky is refreshing. Stepping outside reminds us of the greater world around us. It opens our eyes to God’s creative work. Even if you only walk around the block, time outside is good for the soul.

Force yourself to create something

This might seem ridiculous to those who aren’t creative types, but activating the creative part of the brain stimulates energy. Take a stab at painting an inspirational quote on a piece of cardstock so you can hang it in your car. Download a coloring page and get to work with your child or by yourself. Try a new recipe. Paint the chair that’s looking weathered. The sense of accomplishment is uplifting. For the past eight years, I’ve painted a different room of the house every time February rolls around. My February painting projects are an immediate countenance booster.

Encourage a friend

It’s true that he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed. When I’m feeling down, it helps to take my eyes off my circumstances and pray about which of my friends might need a word of encouragement. Sending a text, email, or an actual card in the mail will brighten someone’s day, and it will brighten yours as well.

Count your blessings

In her first book, One Thousand Gifts, Ann Voskamp encourages her readers to create a list of reasons to give thanks. She shares her journey of counting 1,000 gifts from God and continuing after reaching her initial goal of 1,000. Gratitude journals have been a hit or miss trend since the nineties, and there’s a reason we keep hearing about counting our blessings. Focusing on all that is good is restorative. It magnifies God. When we make God big, we are reminded that he is bigger than even our worst problems.

 

Whether these words find you soaring high on a surprising warm stretch at the end of February, mucking through the depths of a pit, or somewhere in between, my prayer is that you will find encouragement to keep pressing forward. And if you see Darrell, that sweet smoky smell will follow him for at least the next three weeks. He’d love to share the anatomy of a syrup stove with you.

 

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What to Do When You Can’t See a Way Out

 

 

There’s a pileated woodpecker pounding at the birdfeeder, and Caleb stands entranced at the window. It’s fully winter now – the thick of it. The color of autumn is a distant memory, and there are long, dark weeks until the first signs of spring.

What do you do when you’re in the thick of it and can see no way out?

Elisabath Elliot, wife of martyred missionary Jim Elliot, penned a poem titled “Do the Next Thing.” A portion of the poem speaks these words: “Fear not tomorrow, child of the King, trust that with Jesus, do the next thing. Do it immediately, do it with prayer, do it reliantly, casting all care. Do it with reverence, tracing His hand, who placed it before thee with earnest command.”

I think of her words as I watch the woodpecker, as I long for spring and a release from this season. I feel like lying motionlessly on the couch this afternoon, watching old episodes of Gunsmoke on MeTV. I utter a quiet prayer for guidance to carry us through another winter day, and before the words are fully whispered from my parted lips, the buzzer on the dryer in the basement beeps.

I think of folding laundry with reverence, and I’m reminded of Brother Lawrence, the monk known for peeling potatoes with a worshipful heart, fully fixated on God. He knew the secret of living in communion with God through the most mundane tasks.

There are times when it’s hard to see a way out. I’ve walked with others through these times. There have been broken relationships, financial emergencies, health struggles, and the deep grief that comes when a life is taken. I’ve walked with those who could see no way out of their sin, their struggles, and their destructive lifestyles. I know about these struggles because I’ve walked this road as well.

When I can see no way out, I can choose to wallow in the thick of my pit, or I can do the next thing that is set before me. It might be a load of laundry, a stack of dishes, another day at the office, another diaper to change, or answering a phone call from a friend.

We move forward when we continue to put one foot in front of the other and do the next thing.

I roll off the couch, grab Caleb’s little hand, and we head for the laundry room. He’s singing something, and I can’t quite make out the words. We’re half-way through matching the socks when I realize he’s singing only one word – softly, over and over: “Hallelujah,” again and again. We worship together, and thank God for the gift of simply doing the next thing.

 

 

 

 

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5 Things to Do When You Feel Empty and Broken

Only God can satiate the deepest longings of the soul.  When you’re real about it, where have you been turning to quench the longings?  When the darkness settles, and you’re along with your longing, what do you do about it?

Join me at The Praying Woman to keep reading . . .

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