Taking 4 Steps Back

IMG_3911Once upon a time…

There was a little girl who dreamed of being married and raising beautiful little children who would love the Lord and each other.  There wasn’t a white picket fence, but there was a big oak tree with a tire swing, a creek with tadpoles, a kitchen counter with a fresh loaf of homemade bread, and a mommy and daddy who loved each other with abandon.

Not surprisingly, that little girl was me.

It seemed for a very long time that things were headed that way…I’d jumped into the chariot, married Prince Charming, and started making beautiful babies.  The house was full – joyfully chaotic and plentiful in love.

But underneath the calm beauty of a life built together, there were secrets and hurtful things.  Sin was stealing in to destroy and devastate.

After almost 18 years of family building, it became a marriage collapse.

It was easy to assume that this marriage collapse would spell the end of this precious family.

But because God can always make beauty from ashes, we would survive…me and my little band of beauties.

We wobbled, we swayed, but we didn’t fall.  In fact, in many ways we became stronger – closer and more determined to thrive, not just survive.

Picking up the pieces after divorce is no easy task.  In fact, it’s exhausting, but the pieces, with God’s help, do fit back together.  The picture isn’t the same, but it can still be beautiful.  It can still be joyful.

My picture hasn’t fallen back into place easily.  It’s taking time.  It’s taking a bunch of perseverance and patience…things I often don’t feel I have near enough of.

There are days I still mourn my “once upon a time no more”.  There are days I still feel a deep pain in my chest when I ponder what I’ve lost.

But maybe the key is not to focus on what I’ve lost, but to realize what I have gained…been blessed with…have.

And again God brings me back to Whose I am…who I am.

It’s so easy to forget in the busyness of the day…I just feel so much without thinking.

I feel so overwhelmed.  I feel so impatient.  I feel so much pressure.  I feel such failure.  I feel such hopelessness at times.

What.  In.  The.  World????

Hopeless.

How did I get here?

I honestly don’t know…one small step after another I guess.

One step toward thinking I can handle it all.

One step away from the strength of the Lord and into the illusion of my own strength.

One step away from moments of peace and rest and into the hurried and overwhelmed moments of a day without boundaries.

One step away from prayer and into thinking I should be able to do this.

One step away from the Word and into my own wisdom, my own knowledge, my own perspective.

Taking those steps over and over again…those have gotten me here.

To this place of stress and anxious thoughts and overwhelming emotions.

How do I get back to the start…to the better place?

One step at a time…

Step one…on my knees.  Prayer is my lifeline.

Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.  Romans 12:12

 Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knowns what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.  And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.  Romans 8:26-28

Step two…dive into the Word.  Knowing Him through His word gives me such abiding hope, often a new perspective, and the wisdom I need so desperately to lead my little band.

Behold you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.  Psalm 50:6

If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.  John 8:31-32

Sanctify them in the truth; your word is the truth.  As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.  And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.  John 17:17

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.  2 Timothy 3:16

Step three… sit down!!  Chill…relax…rest.  Rest in the knowledge that I am His daughter.  Rest in the knowledge that He has my life in the palm of His hand.  Rest in the knowledge that He will take care of me and my children.  Rest in the knowledge that He loves me.

For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on Spirit is life and peace.  Romans 8:6

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.  Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD God is an everlasting rock.  Isaiah 26:3-4

Step four…gratitude.  I cannot have a good attitude without gratitude.  If I would but take a moment and think about the good things…the precious people and massive number of blessings God has lavished on me…I’d see that it is quite easy to count my blessings.  But even if God had not graciously blessed me with people and things and opportunities and provision, He has blessed me with Christ…with grace and mercy, with the joy of the Lord, with salvation, with life, with hope, with peace, with eternity.  How can my lips not praise and thank Him!

Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.  Psalm 118:1

Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wonderous works to the children of man!  Psalm 107:8

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. Colossians 2:6-7  

 I know there are more steps to take…but that will get me started moving forward with grace and peace.

Lord, thank you so much that you love me regardless of my attitude or actions.  Lord, thank you that I know that you will take care of me and my children.  Forgive me for so often trying to take control of my life.  Forgive me for not resting in the knowledge that I can trust you.  Thank you Father that you are faithful and kind even in the face of my unfaithfulness.  I am in awe of you!  In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Some Quiet Please…

mud

In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.  Isaiah 30:15

Ever wanna be alone?  Just for a minute or two?

Me too.

(I’m assuming you said yes.)

Today I tried for a minute…not even two…and it was a disaster.

It was a wet and dreary day with ice, sleet and snow in the forecast so our schools let out early today. It had been a long week with little sleep… a long day with little quiet… and  I had a few minutes before I needed to be home so I thought I’d take a ride on one of my favorite roads, pull over and look at the river for a few minutes.   Have a moment of quiet all by myself.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.  He makes me lie down in green pastures.  He leads me beside still waters.  He restores my soul.  He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.  Psalm 23:1-3

Its either been snowing or melting, sleeting or freezing, or just plain raining for weeks, so there are puddles, mud, and slush everywhere.

After pulling in, I decided to turn around so I could face a better direction.  I did a wide turn in my Suburban which usually is no problem, but for some reason I went a little bit (truly a little bit) into the grass.  I thought no big deal, but it was.

I slid. And I slid some more.  Right into a massive amount of mud!

I still thought, “No big deal.  I have 4-wheel drive.”

Nope.  Stuck, sinking, and sliding.

My little trip to pull myself together for a minute was becoming a fall apart moment instead.

Definitely not the plan.

I called a friend who offered to come pull me out, but it was a huge inconvenience and I desperately didn’t want to be the damsel in distress.

I just wanted to get out of the mud.

Thankfully!  God provided a Good Samaritan who offered to drive my car and get me out of my messy situation.  When I got in my car,  I didn’t stay to look at the river.  I left.   My alone time was officially finished.

What a disaster.

Sometimes I’m baffled by the way things go.  And I feel so very sorry for myself.

Lately, as I step away from my situation a bit (like right now), I feel like a complete goof.

So I didn’t get a minute to look at the water…but boy did it upset me.

I think I also realized that as much as I want to be a woman who can handle it all, I can’t.

I was acutely reminded of that as I slipped and slopped in the mud.

When I called my friend I felt so badly, but I didn’t have another idea.  I had no idea how to get out of the mud.  I thought surely I can be instructed on how to do this and get myself out.  Nope.  Not that smart.

I had to rely on the kindness of strangers.  God is good to be sure.

And up until just this minute, I have focused on how dumb I feel for even getting into my muddy predicament and how miserable I feel about the loss of my minute alone.

But I just thought about how at just the right moment, God provided someone to help me.

How often does that happen?

I will tell you…He provides me with help as often as everything falls apart.

 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore, we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.  Psalm 46:1-3

I wish He would prevent things from being messy, but that’s part of my growing up in my faith.  All the mess makes me rely on Him.

So we do not lose heart.  Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.  For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.  For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.  2 Corinthians 4:16-18

So maybe being a little bit helpless is okay…I get to see God’s provision.  I get to see God’s grace for me when I feel sorry for myself.  I get to see God provide hope when I feel absolutely hopeless.  I get to feel God’s comfort when I cry tears of sorrow or frustration.  I get to see God use everything in my life for my good.

Even muddy messes, deep puddles, and messed-up alone time.

Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness.  For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.  And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.  And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.  Romans 8:26-28

final diagram verse

More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.  Romans 5:3-5

This morning my Bible study was on suffering.  I had a few thoughts as I realized what the day’s topic was:

Ugh.  Really? Suffering? 

What a minute…isn’t this Bible study on the book of Philippians – shouldn’t it be mostly about joy!?

Oh no!  I don’t want to study suffering…whenever I study something my life seems to mirror the topic. 

Can I opt out?

I don’t want any more character…

But I diligently went through all the verses on suffering.  They were familiar verses like Romans 8:28-30 “…for those who love God, all things work together for good…” and 2 Corinthians 4:11-18 “…this light and momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” and 1 Peter 1:6-9 “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith – more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

I really like the verses in 1 Peter.  Being a past grammar teacher (please don’t judge my grammar now…many many brain cells have died since then), I had the fleeting thought of diagramming the verses to see what modified what and all that English major geeky stuff.  Instead I decided to diagram 1 Peter 1:6-9 my own way.

It was interesting to see it all laid out visually.  I’m a consummate visual learning.  Big pictures are good for me.

So often I need big pictures, hand-written notes, and some serious concentration to understand.  Sometimes a friend will say that I’m a deep thinker…really I’m not.  Occasionally I’ll have a profound thought but if I don’t write it down immediately it’s gone…forever.

So as I’m studying today I thought I’d write down what God is showing me about suffering.

I’m in an interesting place right now.  There is no big thing causing me to suffer great amounts of pain or sorrow.  I’m living a life that is just simply challenging.  I don’t believe it’s more difficult than most nor is it easier than most.  It’s just my life.

I used be a judgmental kinda gal…in my head. I recall sitting at a Bible study listening to ladies share their prayer requests thinking, “You’ve got to be kidding?  Really, THAT’s your prayer request?!  Just wait til I share mine!”

Oh my goodness! I’m so ashamed of those thoughts.

I distinctly remember the last time I thought that.  It was during the second year of my single parenting adventure.  I was working full-time, trying to raise two toddlers, two teenagers and a middle child J and I was fried.  A sweet, sweet lady shared a prayer request that seemed so ridiculous to me…and those thoughts started.  Almost immediately I thought, “Who am I to judge how this dear friend feels about things in her life.  Just because they seem minor to me does not in any way discount how major they seem to her.”

I’m not sure what was different at that point except that God was softening my heart with all the love and grace He was pouring into my life.  I’d received so much of it that I was able to offer it…not out of the goodness of my heart but out of the overflow of His.

The suffering in my life has produced something good.  Something wonderful.  I believe that I’m becoming a more compassionate, kinder, more grace-filled woman.  It doesn’t always show but God’s working with me.  Becoming more and more that godly woman has become the desire of my heart.  I have a vision for it…for her…that woman, mother, friend, daughter, Christian I want to be.

It sounds an awful lot like the character thing that Paul mentions in Romans 5:3-5! Maybe I was wrong about wanting more character…well, I think I should probably take the word maybe out of this sentence.  I can always use more character.

Suffering = Endurance = Character = Hope

And hope.  Who doesn’t want more hope!?  I most certainly do.  Each day I’m beginning to understand more and more the hope that is mine in Christ.

In the days, months, years since my family shattered, I’ve been particularly blessed by many of the Psalms.  I especially love how they pour out their anguish, anger, and anxieties to God and then will often say things like this:

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?  Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.  Psalm 42:5

How beautiful that God continues to bring us back to Him.  What a blessing to know that in the midst of great suffering there is hope.  Not only can we bring all the difficulties of our suffering to God, but we can trust Him to bring us through it all.

It brings to mind another verse I read this morning:

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness.  We do not know what to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.  And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.  And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  Romans 8:26-28

Those Psalmists probably were groaning to the Lord and the Spirit was interceding for them…searching their hearts.  He interceded for them just as He does for us.  And the confidence of that intercession brought them to the same place those verses in Romans can bring us…a place of understanding that God will always work things together for good.  Thank you Father!

It isn’t just in our suffering that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us though.  I have always loved this verse:

Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.  Hebrews 7:25

Jesus LIVES to make intercession for us!  Lives to do it!  What!?!

Dictionary.com defines intercession like this:  “an interposing or pleading on behalf of another person; a prayer to God on behalf of another.”

Jesus lives to plead on my behalf.

Doesn’t that just blow your mind?  Not only did He live the sinless life I couldn’t, die the death I should’ve, and be raised to life again with power I can’t comprehend…He NOW lives for me!

Jesus is so all about me!

Why can’t I be all about Him?  (Argh.)

A lot of the verses I read this morning were about sharing in the sufferings of Christ, having a desire to know Christ better through His sufferings, following the example He set while suffering, and glorifying Him through our suffering.

I think being all about Christ means that I’m willing to suffer for Him, with Him, like Him.  I don’t think it means that I have a desire to suffer but rather a willingness to because it is a “gracious thing in the sight of God” (1 Peter 2:18-25) and it brings Him glory and me growth in my faith.

I write about suffering with great trepidation.  It’s not based on anything Biblical, just a fear of more suffering.  I wish I was braver.

I trust God and I know He uses it all for good, I just hate going through it.

I understand though and, like the Psalmist, I do believe that God is worthy of praise and trust even in the trials.

Studying suffering is going to be good for me.  Reminding me again that God is good even when life is bad.  That I can indeed rejoice in my suffering because I have Jesus.

Time to put the proverbial big girl pants on and get busy in the Word!

Be sober-minded; be watchful.  Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.  And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.  1 Peter 5:8-10