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.

 

 

 

If the LORD had not been on our side

WomanPraising

If the LORD had not been on our side- let Israel say- If the LORD had not been on our side.  Psalm 124:1-2

 Pause with me for a moment and consider what might have been, what could have happened, where we might have ended up- had God not been on our side. I can think about each member of our family- and imagine a completely different outcome in several of our most difficult situations- if the LORD had not been on our side.

It’s a little scary- well, actually, downright frightening- to imagine the pain and loss and tragedy the enemy may have wreaked in our lives- or we may have wreaked in our lives ourselves.

There are several scenarios the Psalmist considers:

“When men attacked us” (v.2)- The attacks of men take many forms- criticism, rejection, slander, or “anger flaring against us” (v. 3). Knowing the LORD is on our side, we are able to stand strong on truth, trusting that it is not men who define us but the God who created the universe. We are able to “take up the shield of faith with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the enemy.” (Ephesians 6:16). And ultimately, we are able to find healing from the hurt, and freedom found in forgiveness. The attacks of men leave deep wounds- but God protects us from hopelessness and provides for healing and even reconciliation.

“The flood would have engulfed us, the torrent would have swept over us, the raging waters would have swept us away” (v. 4-5)- The storms of this fallen world beat against us physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Yet, how often can we proclaim, “this could have been so much worse”? We see God sparing us from total ruin and disaster, even in the hardest circumstances.

Paul writes of these near-death trials:

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; persecuted, but not abandoned, struck down, but not destroyed.  2 Corinthians 4:8-9

 We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.  2 Corinthians 1:8-9

 Continuing in Psalm 124, a third scenario is described like this:

“Praise be to the LORD, who has not let us be torn by their teeth. We have escaped like a bird out of the fowler’s snare; the snare has been broken, and we have escaped.” (v. 6-7)- A predator has captured it’s prey, ready to devour it. But the snare is broken, and the prey escapes. Our predator is Satan himself, and just when He was set to devour us, His snare was broken.

Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?  1 Corinthians 15:55

 Praise the LORD!  The death and resurrection of the Son of God and Son of Man, Jesus Christ Himself, broke the snare of Satan’s grasp on humanity. He died and rose again, breaking the power of sin and death- setting us free to live in all the fullness of the abundant life He gives.

If the LORD had not been on my side, I would still be striving hard after the approval of man. I would be struggling to find significance and meaning in this world. I would be seeking after my own glory- trampling on others all along the way. And I truly don’t know what I would have done in the countless tragedies that we have faced. I fear I would be lost in the hopelessness and despair, totally unaware that God is working all things for my good.

If the LORD had not been on my side, I don’t think I would have many friends, and I know I would make a pretty awful wife and mother. And maybe more than anything, I would be stuck in the shallow perspective of living only for this world, unable to see the greater blessings of an eternal outlook.

Praise the LORD! God Himself has been on our side. Let us all resound as we consider the what-might-have-been’s. Let us cling to Him and trust in Him and seek His glory in all we do.

What then shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but gave him up for us all- how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? …Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.  Romans 8:31-37

Crucified with Christ

EmptyCross

Good Friday.

As a teen, I remember coming to the realization of the gravity, and really the gruesomeness, of the crucifixion of Christ and wondering why we call it Good Friday. It certainly didn’t seem good that Jesus was put to death on a cruel cross. It didn’t seem good that the One who had the week before paraded triumphantly through a crowd shouting “Hosanna!” was now laid bare to suffer before a crowd hurling insults. And it didn’t seem good that God’s One and Only Son bore the fullness of our sin and was separated from His Father in death.

Now later, I see the goodness- the very good-ness- of our Savior’s death. It is good that He would choose to take on our sin and once for all pay its penalty. It is good that the sacrifice of this sinless Lamb of God brought us righteousness and reconciliation with God.

God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.  Colossians 1:19-20

Because He died for our sins, we are counted sinless before God- and that is good. It pleases God.

If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.  Matthew 16:24-25

Yes Jesus died for us, but He also asks us to follow Him in that dying. He invites us to die with Him- not in a literal dying as He did on the cross (though some will be called to pay the ultimate price for their faith), but He calls us to die to our sinful nature.

Those who belong to Jesus Christ have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.  Galatians 5:24

Followers of Jesus crucify their sinful natures by (1) denying themselves, (2) taking up their cross, and (3) following Christ.

Denying myself- Clearly we sinners most naturally think of ourselves first. We like the world to revolve around me, myself, and I. Yet we are called to deny ourselves- for the sake of Christ. What I have found to be true through many different challenging circumstances, is that the Lord will set before me ways to learn to deny myself. Or as I call them, “flesh killers.” When I was planning a special “me” day shopping and getting a manicure, and my child turned up sick, He gracefully forced me to deny myself. When I thought I had a new direction, and my husband and friends agreed it was not right, I had to “kill the flesh” again.

While daily we face short-term interruptions and inconveniences that cause us to conform our will to His, many of us face “long-term flesh killers.” A chronic illness for parent or child, a child whose physical and emotional and mental needs are ongoing and long-term, a husband who is absent- either literally or figuratively. These extreme challenges force us to daily deny ourselves as they whittle away- sometimes gash away- the flesh within. I wonder if we can learn to welcome them more as we see their benefit in this war against self-centered sin.

Taking up my cross- As the cross was where our Lord suffered, so our cross represents the sufferings of this life that we are called upon to carry. He did not promise that we would be free from suffering, but promised rather to be with us through all the suffering that comes.

All in this world suffer much- in many different ways. What Christ promises, if we will deny ourselves, is the peace and the power to persevere. And in that we experience the joy of “sharing in His sufferings” (Philippians 2:10).

We can all think back through the most difficult seasons of our lives- and there we see God’s nearness was most evident. He is here in the hard. Though it would have been hard to say it then, I would not have traded those hard days, for in them I grew closer and more dependent on God. Lord, give us the faith to ask you- “Jesus bring the rain.”

Following Christ- Our Lord calls us to follow Him in daily Christ-likeness- in the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and faithfulness of His Spirit. (Galatians 5:22). His life as told in the gospels clearly displays this godly example. We are told in Romans 8:29, that we have been “predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.” The beauty of sanctification is that Chris is making us more like Himself, and giving us a heart more ready to follow Him.

Denying myself. Taking up my cross. Following Christ. Here’s where I want the fullness of this Good Friday to settle into my mind and heart.

As we honor the crucifixion of Christ, may we join Him in the crucifixion of ourselves.

I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.   Galatians 2:20

 

Calf Muscles and a Reminder of Who’s in Charge

growing-boy2

Last night my husband was out of town, and my son asked if he could “have a sleepover.” At 5 foot, 5 inches tall and fourteen years old, he still loves sleeping in our bed when one of us is away. I love that!  Around 3:00am, I got up to let the dog out, and as I crawled back in bed, there was a very long, bony leg that had stretched over on to my side of the bed. That thing was hard! And big! As I grabbed ahold of his calf muscle to move the leg back to his side, I had a flashback that brought me to tears.

See, when Zach was about two weeks old, we flew to a family reunion. On that trip, I carried him in my front pack baby carrier (which, by the way, we had not had for baby daughters 1 and 2, but my goodness, did it come in handy for baby #3!). I very clearly remember wrapping my thumb and first finger around his teeny, tiny little calf muscle. My finger went around his leg and nearly as tight as it could get back to my thumb to encircle the calf. I asked God in that moment to help me always remember how little that leg was- and how little my son had begun.

The Lord was faithful to answer that prayer last night as my same thumb and first finger can no longer come even close to touching around that calf muscle. It is bigger and stronger, and runs faster and jumps higher.

And I have had absolutely nothing to do with it.

Now, of course, we have provided our son with food, clothing and shelter needed to grow. But I have not put any effort or resource into growing that calf muscle. God has just done it!

And isn’t it by God’s grace that we have provided the food, clothing and shelter anyway?

It is God who works in you to will and act according to His good pleasure. Philippians 2:19

 God is the Creator- and He is still faithfully working to shape my son into the man He made Him to be. He is working in him to grow him physically and spiritually and intellectually and emotionally. GOD is doing that, not me.

It is God who works in my son to will and act according to His good pleasure.

We as moms are pretty good “control freaks.” We are good at working hard to keep everything in control. We work to control our family’s schedule, our family’s meals, our family’s behavior and our family’s appearance. But we are also pretty good at forgetting who’s really in charge.

Last night as I held that giant leg, once so tiny in my fingers, I was reminded of who’s really in charge. God created my son just as he was born- fearfully and wonderfully made, knit together in his mother’s womb (Psalm 139: 13-14). And God is still the One working in Him to grow Him exactly how He has ordained. He invites me to be a part of this process, but I need to remember that this child is not mine to grow. He is God’s.

Of course, not one of my children is perfect- from a human perspective. Each has their unique challenges and weaknesses, strengths and gifts. Their uniqueness-es serve only to more magnificently glorify the great creative Creator. My power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). They also serve as reminders of who is in control- and who is not.

How can we better remember that God is in charge- working His will in our children’s lives?

Reflect on the past and the progress that has been made. Think back on where you were a year ago, five years ago, or where you were when your child was born. How has he or she made progress- even if only small steps- in the last week, month and year? Look at old pictures and reminisce together. Most importantly, look for God’s touch, His presence, along this journey- and give Him great thanks and praise!

Ponder the possibilities and dream big for what is to come. You know better than anyone else what all is packed inside each of your children. Imagine where God is headed with that! Don’t miss the forest for the trees. Glance ahead to the beautiful unfolding of all God brought this chosen child here to be and do.

And pause to be thankful and content for what is. Still your heart from all the rush and stress daily living can often bring, and be thankful. Make a list of things you’re thankful for today- even the littlest things. Rejoice always, pray continuously, and give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (2 Corinthians 5:16-18).

I’m so thankful God is in charge- and I am not. There is a deep peace that comes in the surrendering of my way, my control, my plan, to His. His is far better than I can imagine. He has wisdom and power and resources beyond all human knowing. And He is working all on our behalf- for our good and for His glory.

Take this scripture and fill in the name of your child- and remember God is working in him or her. (You can also try plugging in the name of your husband, or your frustrating coworker or family member, or anyone whom you need to remember is in God’s hand too).

It is God who works in ______to will and act according to His good purposes. Philippians 2:19

Hope Surrenders to God’s Ways

BeachWomanWe have seen that hope surrenders to God’s will and God’s Word. Now we will look at how hope surrenders to God’s ways.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”  Isaiah 55:8-9

I would have chosen an entirely different plan for my life. I think most of us would have.  I had a different career, family structure, and location in mind as I headed into adulthood over twenty years ago. And while there are certainly some things I would have had to go differently, I can fully say that I am glad God worked His way in my life, so different than my own. His ways have been much higher, and much better, than mine ever could have been. I am so thankful His ways have won out.

I see several reasons God’s ways are better than ours:

Our view is limited- His view is limitless. God in His omniscience knows all. He is El Roi, the God who sees, and His lookout is high above the earth. The expression, “You can’t see the forest for the trees,” speaks to our limited view, but God is way above the forest and He sees all.

Our perspective is temporary- His is eternal. The God who set time in motion is outside of time in existence Himself. Therefore, His perspective is from everlasting to everlasting, from generation to generation. His ways move according to an eternal plan, not a temporary one which we create.  He sets time in motion, and wills events to happen that will far outlast this life- all for His glory and our good.

Our purpose is local- His is global. We are prone to self-centered thinking, set on our own situation, wanting the best for us and for those near to us. Yet God’s purpose is to bring the world to know Him. He can orchestrate circumstances in a small village in Africa to coincide with a major city in Asia and a rural community in Montana.

I am the LORD and there is no other, apart from me there is no God, so that from the rising of the sun to the place of its setting, men may know that there is none besides me. I am the LORD and there is no other. I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster, I the LORD do all these things. .. Concerning things to come, do you question me about my children, or give me orders about the works of my hands?  Isaiah 45:5-7, 11

We are wise to surrender to God’s ways. He is the LORD, and there is no other. He is worthy of our trust and hope. We may look upon our challenges with our children and question His ways, yet He has proven Himself faithful.  We will find lasting peace and increased strength when we accept His ways, and surrender to His working in our lives.

Sometimes it is helpful for my faith when something happens that is totally out of my control. A child runs a fever, my car won’t start, the dishwasher breaks, the school is closed. These are things not in my plan, but clearly in God’s. His ways are not my ways. His ways are better than my ways.

But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things- and the things that are not- to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before Him.  1 Corinthians 1:27-29

God’s ways are not like ours, and for that we can be glad. His wisdom is not like ours. His work is not like ours. And His worthiness is not like ours. Let us surrender to His ways as they work in our lives- and there let us find our hope.

Hope Rejoices with the Truth

BibleHands

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  I Corinthians 13:7

Jesus calls Satan “a liar and the father of lies” and tells us “there is no truth in him.” The “prince of this world” seeks to deceive God’s children with lies- some obvious, some more subtle- and works to confuse, condemn, and ultimately control them. Satan’s lies rob us of joy, steal our peace, and leave us hopeless. We have all been his victim.

Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.  Psalm 25:5

As we put our hope in God, we will seek His guidance and His truth. We will learn to flee from what is evil and rejoice with what is true. We will teach our children truth, and walk together with them in what is true.

There are several lies that are common among mothers of children with special needs.

“You can have it all.” The world offers a false promise that we can have a perfect marriage, perfect children, perfect job, perfect church and perfect home. We can easily fall prey to the lie that the “American dream” is within our reach if we will just go for it. And we can believe that we cannot be happy until we attain it all. But the truth is there are only so many hours in the day, and how we choose to spend those hours matters for eternity. Fleeing the material temptations and turning to eternal joy will bring lasting peace. Trusting God with where He has placed us and what He has given us, especially our children, allows us to rejoice and be content.

“You have to do everything.” It is a lie that we as mothers of “normal” children or children with special needs have to take care of everything and have all the answers. We may strive to be “Super Mom” and keep all the balls in the air, but we usually end up driving ourselves to exhaustion doing so. In our quest for control, we can easily cross into codependency- doing things for others they ought to be doing themselves. We lose sight of healthy boundaries and rob others of contributing in their roles. Each of us has a system of support that includes family, church, school, doctors who are gifted to help each of our children. We have to learn to let God use others to support our children, and to support us. Pride can keep us from receiving the good help God provides.

“It’s all your fault.” Shame and blame are Satan’s trademarks. If you experience either, you can know you’ve been lied to. “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ.” (Romans 8:1). When we turn our focus inward, we can be quick to blame ourselves. But when we focus on Christ, we see His gentle eyes pouring out love and forgiveness. We are free to own sin or mistakes we may have made, and move towards reconciliation where needed. And we are also free to see where others have sinned, and move towards offering them forgiveness.

“If only you had…, this wouldn’t have happened.”  “Should’a, could’a, would’a” are more marks of Satan. Regret can rush in as we think and re-think what we could have done differently to change the present. We can get paralyzed in the past, and not face the present or prepare for the future. Paul writes, “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13) Learning to trust God’s sovereign hand in our lives turns us from blaming ourselves (or even others), to seeking how He will bring glory to Himself through this.

“You can’t handle this.” Some trials seem too big to endure. Some disappointments or uncertainties bring overwhelming fear. Satan loves to throw lies that cause us to cower and hide, rather than reach out for the mighty hand of God when faced with great difficulty. And on one hand, this lie is true. We can’t handle this- on our own strength. But we can handle this with the help of our All-Powerful God. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  (Philippians 4:13).  We can rejoice knowing God is bigger, and “nothing is impossible for God.” (Luke 1:37)

We are wise to surround ourselves with truth to combat the lies Satan will cast our way. There is hope knowing truth can be found in God’s Word.

We can rejoice in the One who Himself is The Way, The Truth and The Life (John 14:6).