Strengthened through Struggle

 

weightliftingI hate it when my kids hurt!

All moms hate it when their kids hurt. And the worst hurts are the ones we can do nothing about. All moms know the deep soul ache of watching a child suffer, desperately wishing we could take the pain on ourselves for them.

In the midst of painful storms, difficult hurts and big disappointments with our children, we find comfort in knowing “this happened for a reason.” There is hope in knowing there must be some purpose for the trials God allows in our lives. But what is the reason? What is that purpose? Especially when what comes is so not what we expected and so terribly difficult that, as Paul says, “we despair even of life itself.” (2 Corinthians 1:8)

“No pain, no gain” is what athletes are told. To get faster and stronger, athletes train through pain, working their muscles to fatigue and even soreness. The not-so-technical explanation for this is that as muscles are strained with greater intensity, small tears are made in the muscle fibers. As those fibers heal, the muscle tissue grows stronger and able to work at higher levels. Over time, as muscles are worked, they grow bigger and stronger, able to do more work than before.

The scriptures tell us that this same principle is true with our hearts- with spiritual training. No pain, no gain. God uses trials to shape and sharpen us. And like a potter working his clay on the potter’s wheel, the pushing and prodding needed to transform the clod of clay into a beautiful vessel does not feel very good to the clay. So trials don’t feel very good to us, but some of the pain is soothed knowing there is a greater reason and purpose for the pain.

It is helpful to cast our struggling feelings against a backdrop of what we already know to be true. I find three things help me hold on through the hard.

  1. He is working all things together FOR US.

And we know that in all things God works together for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.  Romans 8:28

We don’t need to see the good or know what it will be to trust God’s promise that that is what He is doing. He promises to work all things together- for those who love Him- for His purposes. As a weaver is working in different colors, textures and patterns, at times individual rows look quite ugly or out-of-place. But in the completed tapestry, all work together to produce a beautiful piece of art. We cannot see the completed work. We are only looking at this moment. But we can look at the Weaver and trust that He knows what He is doing.

  1. He is working IN US to make us more like His Son.

For those God foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son. Romans 8:28

He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:8

 The work God is doing in us – and in our children – is molding us into the image of His Son. And He promises to complete that work. He wants us to be like Christ – wise and strong, compassionate and overflowing with unconditional love.

  1. He is readying to work THROUGH US to bring others to His grace.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of Compassion and the God of all Comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received.  2 Corinthians 1:3-4

 The struggles we face are not just for our good, but also for the good of those we will better serve in the future. We will greater offer grace and compassion when we have experienced them so greatly. Our hearts are softened to others’ struggles, and we more readily give comfort when we’ve been comforted. It may be years before we see this come to pass, but God will surprise us at the heart connections we will make with people facing similar trials.

God, show your mighty hand working for us, in us and through us. Even more, we ask you to show our children your mighty hand working for them, in them and through them in a way they can understand. May our hearts be strengthened through the struggles. Show your grace in the hard place. Write our story – and their story – for your glory.

 

 

 

Blown-Out Tires and God’s Great Undisturbedness

flattireMy husband was a hero today. A back tire on our vehicle blew out with a loud bang and a sharp pull to the left that could have sent us all out of control. We could have swerved out into the speeding oncoming traffic or the other way into the concrete barrier. But we didn’t- because Chris stayed calm. He didn’t panic but rather maintained composure, and brought us slowly to a safe stopping place off the main road. From all appearances, He was undisturbed by the sudden crisis. And in this “undisturbedness,” my husband commanded control of the situation and responded with wisdom. He chose peace instead of panic.

I was reminded immediately of God’s great undisturbedness. When we face any sudden crisis, we can either look at the frightening circumstance and panic, or we can look up to our Great King who is seated on His heavenly throne and find peace. When we see Him there, reigning over all, we see His great undisturbedness. As unexpected as the crisis is to us, the One who set time in motion, and is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8), has not been caught off guard. And if we will allow Him to, He will command control of the situation and respond with wisdom. And He will help us choose peace instead of panic.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your heart and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

When did you last have a blown-out tire? When did your world blow apart with unexpected news or injury or illness? What crisis has sent you into panic? Can you look back now and see how God was there- He was with you and He was working good even through the hardest time? Or are you still waiting for Him to make sense of it all?

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, and who have been called according to His purpose. For those God foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son. Romans 8:28-29

If we believe that the promises of God are true, then we can be sure that each crisis that comes is ultimately working in us a greater good than we can know in the immediate experience. We can look back upon His faithfulness through past crises, and trust Him to be faithful for this one, and for all the ones that are yet to come. These are all part of His growth plan to conform us to the likeness of His Son. We can look into His great undisturbedness, and find the peace and wisdom and strength needed to wisely navigate through another life storm.

As a kid, my dad taught us the “3 C’s”- He taught us to stay “calm, cool, and collected” in stressful situations. He taught us to not panic (or at least try our hardest not too), because things only get worse when we panic. It helped me not to panic knowing my dad was nearby to help. And now as an adult, it helps me not to panic knowing God is always nearby to help.

God will not temporarily take a break from his throne and let the world spin out of control. Do we believe that He is Lord of all- or do we think things happen that catch Him off guard? Everything that comes to His children has come through the fold of His hands around each of our lives. Nothing slips by Him, but rather in all things God is working for the good of those who love Him.

Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. The Lord Almighty is with us.  Psalm 46:10-11

Be still and know that I am God. Be still and know that I am the Lord of Lords and King of Kings, and I am in control. Be still and know that I am undisturbed by what is happening in your life. Be still and know that I am working all for your good and for my glory.

Don’t panic. Stay calm, cool, and collected. Look for my peace to guard your heart and my wisdom to direct your path.

Be still.

And know that I am God.

Sick Kids, Sovereign God

sickchildIn my book, sick kids always trump ministry or work.

On the days when I have a child come up sick, I know that whatever I was thinking I was supposed to do that day, I wasn’t.

We recently served with a group of high school students on an intergenerational mission trip to Honduras. Mid-week, my 15-year-old daughter became very sick. We had to miss out on that morning of ministry and an afternoon with a very special outing, and we were both very disappointed.

Several of the wisdom-seeking young girls had asked among the adults that week the question we all long to have answered, “How can we know God’s will for our lives?” Whether in choosing a college, or finding a husband, these girls were on a quest to know how to know what God wants them to do. The day my daughter was sick made for a good example of how God often uses the circumstances He allows into our life each day to show us His good, pleasing and perfect plan. For that day, my child was sick, and I needed to forego my ministry service role and fulfill my nurturing caregiver role with her.

Early in my motherhood journey, my mother said to me, “You’re only as happy as your saddest child.” And I think it has also gone like this: “You’re only as well as your sickest child.” A given mom-trait is empathy, the ability to share someone else’s (especially our child’s) feelings. When our children are sick, our hearts are broken, and we would rather take their place suffering than watch them suffer through.

Having a sick child is exhausting physically and emotionally, but are we able to see God’s hand in it? Are we able to sense His presence on those hard days? Are we able to tap His power for strength beyond ourselves? Are we able to trust that He is sovereign even over our child’s illness, whether it be acute or chronic?

In my not-so-theologically-equipped mind, I struggle to put my mind around the sovereignty of God, especially when it comes to the very difficult trials that come into our lives. A sick child is clearly one of those. And though this may be over-simplified, the question it comes down to for me is this: “Is He on His throne as King of kings and Lord of all the earth? Or is He not?”

Years ago a local youth group had a terrible tragedy on a weekend retreat. A pickup truck filled with sleeping bags and duffle bags was heading from the church to the home where one group of students was to spend the night. The students followed behind on the freeway, and all saw right away when one sleeping bag flew out of the pickup truck onto the freeway ahead of them. Apparently, they pulled over, and one student went out on the freeway to pick up the sleeping bag. Then, very tragically, the student was struck by an oncoming vehicle and killed.

I heard the senior pastor trying to offer counsel for the students and parents the following morning. And while it would be very difficult to know how to comfort those in the face of such a tragedy, I didn’t feel like his words went in the right direction. Some of the words he spoke were, “God didn’t plan this. This was not in His will. This is not what God wanted to happen here last night.”

Again, in my simple mind, it sounded to me like he was suggesting that God had taken a short break from His throne while the accident occurred. Which brings that question again, “Is He on His throne, or is He not?”

Remember the childhood song, “He’s got the whole world in His hands?” It gives me a picture of God as sovereign Creator of the universe, holding all of creation, especially man whom He created in His image, in His strong hands. If we are held within His strong hands, then only what He allows to come into our lives can get through to us. Whether He is the source of the difficulty, or if our sin, other sinners or Satan are the source, God allows it to come to us for a specific purpose that we may or may not ever know. We can know for certain, though, that His purpose is always to draw us closer into Himself, and shape us closer into the image of His Son Jesus Christ.

Does God know when my child is going to be sick?

Yes- He is omniscient, all-knowing. He knows everything about everyone.

Is God able to make my child well?

Yes- He is omnipotent, all-powerful. Whether He does or not, He has the power to.

Is God here to help me through this hard?

Yes- He is omnipresent, ever-present. And He draws near to the brokenhearted.

The gospels tell of us several parents whose children were sick. Where did they turn? They turned to Jesus. One father cried out to Jesus with a very simple, yet honest and profound prayer. “Help me overcome my unbelief!”

May we learn to trust God with our sick children. Whether our plan is interrupted for a day or for years, may He grant us greater faith to trust that He is sovereign, omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent through it all.

New Every Morning

newyearcalendar

Walk through any grocery or department store and you know right away that it’s New Year’s Resolution time, isn’t it? The front displays all relate to weight loss and home organization.  Everyone seems to be exercising more, eating less and cutting the clutter.  Admittedly, I usually jump on the resolution bandwagon, and take the opportunity to renew some healthy habits left off a few months back when life’s busy days got the best of me. And admittedly, the commitment usually trails off a few months in and we’re back to where we started.

My husband has a different perspective this time of year, and it got me thinking this week. He adamantly refuses to make any New Year’s resolutions and resists the concept entirely.  Here’s why: he says if a change is that important, then it should be that important any day of the year. It shouldn’t take a change of the calendar year to get you to do it if it’s really worth doing.

I see great value in taking the turn of the year to reflect on God’s blessings in the year gone past. And I see value in renewing a personal vision and commitment with expectation for the coming year. But I think the key may be in Chris’ thinking that this level of commitment should sustain itself throughout the year.

Maybe the opportunity to reflect and renew should be taken every morning, rather than just at year’s end.

Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.  Lamentations 3:21-23

So maybe our New Year’s Resolution should be to make a “New Day’s Resolution” everyday.

And that new day’s resolution should start with a reflection on the LORD’s great love and compassion in the day before. Reflecting on God’s faithfulness for yesterday strengthens our trust to know He will be faithful for today. Then our response to His love, compassion and faithfulness becomes our vision and commitment for the day. We then go out to serve out of the overflow of our hearts, seeking His glory and not our own.

Our new day’s resolution may include a healthy eating and exercise plan, not to achieve body perfection, but to be better fit to serve God and others.

Our new day’s resolution may include a home organization project, not to achieve earthly praise, but to better serve our family and create order and peace in our home.

And our new day’s resolution should always include a time of prayer and Bible Study, not to check off a to-do list, but to better conform our hearts and minds to God’s will.

If you’re like me, the end of the day finds you pretty much beat. We’ve taken care of ourselves, our families (should we list all the laundry, carpools, and meals?), and our work and church responsibilities.  I love putting on cozy pajamas and climbing in my soft bed- and resting. Then, assuming no middle of the night dog or kid crisis, I awake in the morning ready to start a fresh day.

How about we try and make the refreshed start of the day a refreshed vision and commitment for serving Christ? Could we take our shower time and use it for drinking of the Living Water and letting Christ’s healing and forgiveness pour over us? Could we take our getting dressed and be reminded to put on our new self- clothed in His righteousness?

Be made new in the attitude of your minds and put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.  Ephesians 4:23-24

Experts agree on the value of both short- and long-term goals. Maybe there is a combination of a New Year’s Resolution that sets a bigger direction for our lives and a shorter-term daily commitment renewal that keeps us moving towards that vision in realistic achievable steps.

I pray we would begin each day renewed- with a new song in our hearts and on our lips- ready to serve the Lord with fresh commitment.  I pray we would seek a fresh vision as this new year begins- watching on high for His guiding hand. And I pray we would rest at each day’s end to praise the One who is “making everything new.” (Revelation 21:5)

It is good to praise the Lord and make music to your name, O Most High, to proclaim your love in the morning and your faithfulness at night. Psalm 92:1-2

Because They’re His, Not Mine

BoyRockClimb

I prayed for this child, and the LORD has granted me what I asked of Him.  For his whole life, He will be given over to the LORD.  I Samuel 1:27-28

Because my children belong to God, and not to me, I can find freedom, peace and rest as I trust them to His strong hands and perfect love. If I live in this faith and keep this perspective, my parenting journey is changed for His glory and for my good.

Because they’re His, and not mine, I know He loves them even more than I do. The great love and endless grace of their Heavenly Father are poured over each child as He protects and provides for their every need.

Because they’re His, and not mine, I can trust them to His care. Whether they are sitting close at my side, or travelling far across the world, our omnipresent God is with them. His eyes are always on them, even when my own are not.

Because they’re His, and not mine, my own worth is not based on their choices. Whether they are shining in righteousness or struggling with sin, I resist taking the credit or the blame. I choose rather to set my own worth on who I am in Christ, which has not changed since my children were born.

Because they’re His, and not mine, I’m free to serve them with unconditional love. Each one is a gift placed in my care by their Creator. May I love them as He would have me. May I serve them with His patience, His grace, His discipline and His wisdom.

Because they’re His, and not mine, I can be their parent and not their best friend. Seeking to please God, and not to please my child, I can keep my place as parent in their lives. I can parent with purpose training their hearts and minds for Christ.

Because they’re His, and not mine, I can see past who they are today to who He is shaping them to be. He has begun a good work in each one of them, and I can rest knowing He will be faithful to complete it. I see His hand working even in the hard. Each glimpse of His presence gives me more patience and grace.

Because they’re His, and not mine, I can live with healthy boundaries, respecting their emerging independence. As they grow, may they take on more responsibility for their own decisions. May I model that responsibility as I live my life before them.

Because they’re His, and not mine, I can keep myself healthy to best serve Him in this role. I can seek to be healthy physically, mentally, emotionally, socially and spiritually. In doing so, I am best fit to honor God in this role. I can live with balance and an eternal perspective.

Because they’re His, and not mine, I can parent for His glory rather than for my own accolade. I can resist the temptation to compare and compete with others. I can seek the contentment that comes in living for the Lord, and not for myself.

Because they’re His, and not mine, I can stand in awe of who He has made them to be- today. When I set aside pressures to perform and pretend and be perfect, I see each child as an amazing creation shaped not by my will, but by the will of God. Each heart, mind, body and soul is a treasure who is worthy of great care.

Lord, forgive me for where my parenting has been centered on me, or centered on my child, and not centered on You. Make me a faithful servant of the children you have placed in my care. Give me your heart to love them as you would. Renew in me the wonder of who you have made them to be. I want to be faithful to you.

 

Running on Empty

EmptyGas

“Don’t let your gas tank get below a quarter of a tank!”

My dad still gives this life wisdom each time I leave for a long road trip. And he has for the last 25 years or so that I’ve been driving. I am reminded of it each time the indicator light comes back on in my minivan indicating that my gas level has once again gone below a quarter of a tank. The stress level in me quickly rises as I hope I can make it in to a nearby gas station, distraught because I don’t have the time to stop and fill up right then, and frustrated because it seems like I just filled up three days ago! Why don’t I listen to my dad on this?

Mothers of children with special needs do a lot of running. From school to doctors to activities to church and family functions, we are on the go. And with all the kids and carseats and cargo we tote around, most of us drive vehicles that don’t get very good gas mileage. So by necessity, we have to return to the nearest gas station frequently, often pushing our luck with a gas level far below a quarter of a tank.

As we need frequent fill ups in our vehicles, even more so do we need frequent fill ups in our lives. As we need our cars to keep going strong for us, our families need us to keep our hearts, souls, minds and strength going strong for them.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.  Mark 12:30

Here Jesus tells us the most important command is to love God, and to love Him in four ways. I see these as four ways we need to be filled in order to faithfully serve Him. Emotions, spirit, thoughts and physical health. If we don’t stop and refuel in each of these areas, we run on empty in a constant state of stress and frustration.

1. When we are filled emotionally, our emotions are in check, balanced by self-control and a healthy perspective on the people and situations in our lives. When we are running on empty emotionally, every fleeting feeling we have comes pouring out of our mouths and we are left to pick up the pieces of all that we have damaged along the way.

Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.  Proverbs 5:23

 Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks. Matthew 12:34

2. When we are filled spiritually, we run on the wisdom and peace and power of the Holy Spirit. We are filled with a lasting joy that goes beyond our circumstances. We live by God’s Word. But when we are running on empty spiritually, we are running in our own sinful flesh and old self-centered ways, which leaves us, as an empty gas tank, broken down.

The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  Galatians 5:22-23

3. When we are filled mentally, our thoughts become like Christ’s. We think on things that are honoring to God (Philippian 4:8), and we take control of thoughts that would dishonor him if left to become words and actions (2 Corinthians 10:5). But when we are running on empty mentally, we lose creativity and the ability to rationally solve the problems that life brings.

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Romans 12:2

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 2:3

4. Finally, we need to be filled physically. We need to fill up with those habits which allow our physical bodies to best serve where God has placed us. We need balanced nutrition, regular exercise and, perhaps most important to exhausted moms, adequate rest. When we run on empty physically, we are exhausted in all areas- heart, soul, mind and strength.

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own, you were bought at a price, therefore honor God with your body.  I Corinthians 6:19-20

 I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.  Psalm 4:8

There is some mechanical difference between newer cars and older cars related to gas tanks. I’m sure my mechanical father has told me before- some kind of converter something-or-other that one had or has and the other doesn’t. What I do remember is that it was less damaging to older cars to run out of gas, and that with today’s newer cars, running the gas tank all the way empty can be catastrophic to the engine.

So with today’s moms, running our tanks all the way to empty can be catastrophic. Irreparable damage to our families, our jobs, our bank account and our bodies can leave us completely stranded, broken down, alone on the side of the road of life.

Maybe you’ve been there. Maybe you’re there right now. I know I’ve been there several times.

Thankfully, our Redeemer is already on the way. He seeks us out and brings the filling of His Spirit. He fills up our hearts, souls, minds and bodies, restores us to wholeness, and get us back running safely again.

Will we learn from the breakdowns to fill up sooner? Will we watch and not go below a quarter of a tank? Will we come in for a “fill up” from the One who promises “He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35)?

He is waiting. Will we listen to our Father on this?

Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.  Mark 6:31

Open wide your mouth and I will fill it.  Psalm 81:10