Refreshing Hearts One Sentence At A Time
The tickets were purchased, the map was defined, supplies packed and ready, clouds parting in the sky to reveal a cosmos so blue and sunny that tropical islands yawned in jealous torment; the adventure was set to begin in three, two -- and wait. Hold on.
Pause for a moment.
The phone is ringing.
It's the realtor, and we have a closing date! It is.... tomorrow! Tomorrow? Tomorrow!? That means I need to call -- I need to pack -- I need to unpack -- I need to text Mom -- I need to go to the --
And a new adventure began instead.
"Humble yourselves therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your care on him, because he cares about you." 1 Peter 5:6
Let's get a few words out of the way before we go any further. The word, "exalt," means 1)honor, 2)fill with sublime emotion, 3)heighten or intensify, 4)raise in rank, character, or status. Humble is both an adjective and verb, meaning 1)inferior in station, 2)marked by modesty, 3)of low station, 4)cause to be unpretentious, 5)cause to feel shame or hurt the pride.
I like to make plans. I like to make lists. I like to make plans that incorporate my lists, and then check off the boxes in order. And yes, my clothes closet is ordered by the colors of the rainbow.
Sometimes I make plans for my life. Sometimes I say, “I will go to the park tomorrow,” or “I will get groceries tomorrow,” or “I will watch Bones today.” I am learning that the long-term plans are the ones that seem to fall through. I am learning that not all of the boxes get checked off in order. I am learning that I don’t like it when my boxes are not checked off in order. Where is the excitement in last minute changes, and where is the thrill in flakiness? Um, I’m really not as stuffy as that last sentence makes me sound. I just like an order to the chaos. An order which I create.
But do I look for the adventure?
What if there is an order in the chaos, and I’m simply unaware of it?
I don’t think people plan for loss, broken water heaters, floods, earthquakes, bug bites, and job changes. I don’t want to speculate that most people plan their own worst-case scenario. Do you plan your own worst life? Do you look for ways to hurt others or yourself? I don’t, so I’m going off of my own ideal world. Mine is one similar to that of Neverland or Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, where there are lush, green, open fields rolling in the distance, and parks with flowers, and laughing friends nearby, ready to do something fun.
So there’s a gap between the real world and what-could-be.
Because in this real world, the adventure has been filled with rain clouds, plane rides, tears, shiny skyscrapers, hugs with my daughter, bitten nails, crashed computers, divine lunches, and inconsolable loss. The adventure included boat rides, beaches, bridges, boxes, and paradise. The darkness crept nearby, watching with dollar signs in its eyes. He imagined destruction and whispered threats of loneliness. The new adventure was unlike anything I had imagined.
But I did get to ride a camel in the sand.
He moaned at me, arching his long, tan, furry neck toward me, groaning and baring his crooked, yellow teeth. His trainer smacked him smartly on the neck with a small brown stick, demanding some unknown command in Arabic. After a few more moments of groaning, lips quivering and teeth snarling, he began arching his back legs to a standing position. I gripped the saddle horn as the back-end rose higher, and his front knees eventually began to quake and burst with movement upward. Then he was walking, one slow step after another, moaning further, shaking his head in disagreement, as if he was done with the pony ride. I sat far on his back, gripping the old leather, ten feet in the air, on this beast towering above the tourists below. He roamed in a slow circle around the hot, sandy area, guided by the man in the khaki tunic. The camel settled in his spot, front side first, bowing into the sand, folding his legs under his thick, hairy torso. Rocking and quaking, I settled back on the ground and climbed off his back.
And all too soon, I had to fly away from those shiny buildings, sand dunes, and my sister’s warm hugs.
What can I say about riding a camel?
Hold on tight, especially when starting out and ending, because the fall forward could be a hilarious sight to see, though painful for the fall-er.
What can I say about the new adventure?
Hold on tight and a grab a ginger pill, because there’s turbulence up ahead.
Another part of the new adventure was moving to our first house, then turning around and helping my parents leave their house – my “home” – of 25 years. So in between the boxes, airplane rides, boxes, broken computers, leaky house fragments, boxes, shimmering anniversaries, and golden hotel rooms, the year 2013 has been --- an adventure. It’s a tale of remorse, angst, distilled silence, and fresh morning sunshine streaming in through the window. It has been salted and spiced with hummus, take-out, large bills, extraordinary views, pecans, boxes, emptiness, and tears. In the preparation of moving, unpacking, moving, packing, and readying for flying, there was teaching classes, coordinating ministry events, and home-making.
And since the first leg of the adventure, the shiny drama has dissipated into unmotivated laziness. I partially think I’ve earned it. The Big Year is not even halfway over, but all the oil is used up. The Tandoori powder is prepped but the chicken is already eaten.
My husband – my sane half – says this unmotivated feeling is just a let-down after vacation. He says that it is post-year’s-worth-of-suspense-leading-up-to-an-adventure. Now that we bought the cow...we have to care for it. Now that we’ve been to paradise…we have to live with central Texas in a drought.
Not that I’m complaining, really. I’m very grateful to have seen what I’ve seen, to be able to hear the sounds of foreign instruments, to have tasted authentic food, to have stayed up way too late talking with my family, to have stood on the tallest floor on the planet. And I’m grateful for the home I get to come back to, for the soft carpet underfoot, the warm sunshine and cooing doves out the back window. I’m just trying to figure out the emotions that roll along in this tidal wave. What do you say when the grey seems dimmer and the silence seems louder?
My heart has been heavy, my arms weak, and my legs sore. And not just from working out. Although that is a factor.
The clock has been winning recently, ticking along merrily, leaving me behind. The adventure continues into chapter three, and I’m still trying to figure out what happened in chapter two. Each page-turn I fall a little farther behind, and lack the motivation to read along. So I watch tv. Because it is happy. Because it is easier. Because it is observing, rather than having to react myself.
I’m riddled with fear, with this deep sadness, sometimes, when I think about how this adventure continues on, and I’m not ready for it to do so. I’m content with the springtime, and yet the wind continues to steadily blow across the field. Who am I in the midst of this changing planet, this controlling government, this judgemental society? Who am I, that one little session of dusting or creating a website will add to an eternity of importance? What are my words that my viewpoint will help others carry on?
I’ve avoided writing lately. It’s the motivational thing, but also some other feelings of inadequacy that have been whispered into my ear as of late. I was wiping up the mud on my kitchen floor today, the mud my daughter tracked in after playing in the muddy backyard, after the plumbing guys had left the hose in the open back door, after which they had told me we would need a new hot water heater, after which we had found water seeping up in our bathroom. I was wiping up the mud by hand because the Swiffer vacuum is broken, and have been waiting for the next payday to get a new one because I didn’t see room in the budget to get one. It’s a good thing we didn’t have room for a $40 gadget. I’d sure hate to have to buy a new water heater or something.
And I thought, you know, I really want to be dramatic about this. I want to be depressed at how we have had to pay for a rushed passport, and a computer that the cable company broke and refuses to pay for; I want to be depressed that we will not get back the deposit from our apartment because of some silly miscommunications; I want to be depressed and dramatic because this whole new home-owner experience has been just as expensive as I expected.
But there’s a measure of sanity in the back of my mind that speaks the truth of, “God will provide.” Cast all your care on Him, because he cares about you. He doesn’t just care for me and my silly and expensive broken water heater, he cares about you and your dust bunnies, your sunny day, your bad choices, your sore back, your justified goals, your fears. He cares, and he has a plan.
I want to be dramatic about the many ups and downs on this rollercoaster ride. I want to sit back in silence and let the game play itself out. I want to have more money in the bank.
However, this adventure is more than dollars and cents. This adventure is a cliff-hanger, where the reader isn’t sure if the traveller will be required to dive into the deepest, darkest, underwater caves, or if this is the chapter of flashbacks to the good ol’ days. Is this the chapter where the audience gets a little insight into the protagonist, or is this the chapter where the protagonist gets thrown into the tar pit and has to fight off the monster alligator-dog?
Regardless, the protagonist has to endure it. Why? Otherwise, it wouldn’t be a very good adventure story.
"Humble yourselves therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your care on him, because he cares about you." 1 Peter 5:6
I hear a lot about having humility. I think it’s a good practice. But I think there’s a fine line between having just enough, too little, or too much humility. Because I know God has a better plan than I can ever make, but he gave me this adventure so I can become a better version of myself. I can’t be timid, shy, or a quivering sack of dirt. I have to have grit, heart, and spunk. There has to be determination, tenacity, and guts. Who really wants the alligator-dog to win? I think the audience would rather see the under-dog win. Therefore I will remember that I am a character in the story, but one written into the story with purpose and creativity. Because He cares about me.
And remember, he cares about you, too. He has a mighty hand, a mighty plan. So if you have to scrape the dirt from your floor, on your hands and knees, wondering what kind of cents all of this makes, notice that you aren’t alone. And maybe the wind will whisper the promises of a steadfast Creator as you wipe. Use the grit and be refined as a more steadfast being. The chapter continues to play out, and sometimes the reader’s speed is breath-taking. But the Author controls the storyline. He will honor you; he will lift you out of the pit; he will fill you with peace; he will strengthen your character. Use this crazy adventure to become more like your Author. Maybe one day soon he will allow you to see more of his storyboard.
How do we keep going?
At my workout class yesterday, during the cardio portion, I found myself flopping around like an uncoordinated jellyfish who had been unwittingly hired on as a Rockette.
I’ve been at this workout class when I got the phone call that my grandmother had passed away. I was there when my dad called to say he had lost his job, that my cousin died, and when my real estate agent informed me that our offer was declined. Apparently, bad news calls in the morning.
Sometimes I would continue class, sometimes I just let the tears fall while the wind whisked around me at the park, and sometimes I just continued on with class, because there was nothing left to do but move on to the next stop.
Yesterday when I was flopping around with my discoordinated flapping and kicking, the thought popped into my mind: How do we keep going?
Yeah, so what if I refer to myself as a ‘we’?!
I mean us. You and me. Me and that other girl. That other girl and the blond guy over there. How do we keep going? Why do we keep going?
“Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air” (1 Corinthians 9:26).
“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).
“Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good. His love endures forever. Give thanks to the God of heaven. His love endures forever” (Psalm 136:1,26).
The children of God are not aimless, pointless, fainthearted, or easily displaced. We cling to the truth, to the precious words of our Maker, and continue forward knowing he is good, he is with us, and he will help us endure. That’s where the last step ends and the next step begins, in your willingness to risk the change. Even if you look like a fish out of the water. Especially when you feel like a fish out of the water.
I like watching One Tree Hill. I admit it. I enjoy the writing:
“You gotta open up your heart to somebody. You gotta let someone discover how staggering you are.”
I think we all deserve to be told that at least once in our lives. We spend so much time trying to make ourselves better, improving upon what we are, that we don’t see how fabulous we currently are. We are quite often small and insignificant, a little overweight, clumsy, and forgetful, but we were made by flawless hands. We were created in the depths of perfection, in the shadow of unspoiled eyes.
You are staggering.
It doesn’t matter if you can name your faults or claim your failures. That’s beside the point. David was just a kid going up against a 9-foot tall sack of muscle and hair, and look what he did. He owned his place with his Creator, saying, “Then all the world will know that Israel has a God, and this whole assembly will know that it is not by sword or by spear that the Lord saves, for the battle is the Lord’s” (1 Samuel 17:46b-47). I’m guessing he said it rather loudly. I would. I mean, that is a well-phrased group of words. If you got something good to say, be loud with it.
The battle is the Lord’s. That insurmountable guilt, the fear, the melancholy, the grime between your toes, the dusty floorboards; eh, it’s just a little housework to the one who made it all. I’m not a big fan of housework. And I’m not sure why dust exists, I mean, really, gross. I guess dust exists to remind us of our vice and folly, and that even as we continue to wipe the shelves and chair legs, so our Father wipes away our tears. Wipes away our scandals, wipes away our fears.
But He made us, he keeps us, and maintains our presence if only we stay. And I think we need to quit reminding ourselves that we aren’t worth it, that we have to keep improving. Because it’s not really up to our abilities. We can’t earn the privilege of being staggering. Jaw-dropping. On fire. Compelling. We are God’s workmanship, created to do the good works he prepared for us to do. The good works may not always feel like fun works or easy works, and they may not be in the place where you want your work to be, but they are prepared specifically for you. Very often I wonder about my work and if I’m doing any good at all. Because sometimes as your toddler pushes the power button on the computer as you are completing an order and you just want to yell, or when the husband leaves his shoes in the middle of the room even though you specifically put a basket for shoes by the door and you trip over them while carrying hot coffee, or when you notice you are saying something obnoxious and don’t stop yourself in time, it feels like pointless failure. That’s when we need some kind of reminder that this world around us isn’t the last word.
Pick up a rock and throw it. God will aim it and finish the task.
I need to make myself a sticky note and write that on it. As a stay at home mom, there are a lot of quiet moments when the daunting tasks easily overwhelm. So I put quotes or Bible verses around where I will see them when I need them the most.
“All of your toil is ever before him.” ~ Beth Moore
“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” ~ 2 Corinthians 10:5
“Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air.” ~ 1 Corinthians 9:26
“But all this happened that we might not rely on ourselves, but on God who raises the dead.” ~ 2 Corinthians 1:9
(Apparently the Corinthians speak to me.)
But here’s another one that applies just as well, courtesy of One Tree Hill:
“The greatest rewards come from doing the things you fear most.”
Sometimes those imaginary monsters like The Laundry Pile or Vacuuming or Asking For Forgiveness or Losing Weight or Getting Out Of Bed need to be told who’s boss. It doesn’t matter how tall our adversary; it doesn’t matter how musty, ponderous, or devastating it may seem. It is all incredibly small compared to the Lord of Hosts. You know, a synonym for “host” is “master of ceremonies.” The person with that job knows the show inside and out, front to back, and has a backup plan if there are technical difficulties or someone isn’t in place at the right time.
David also said, “You come against me with a dagger, spear, and sword, but I come against you in the name of Yahweh of Hosts, the God of Israel’s armies – you have defied him…The Lord will hand you over to me. Today, I’ll strike you down, cut your head off… Then all the world will know that Israel has a God… He will hand you over to us” (1 Samuel 17:45-46). Take that, toilet grime. Take it and eat it, clumsiness, ache, hunger, rejection, despondency, and loss.
Remember it, wear it in your heart, and do not lose grip on the most powerful weapon that we will ever have to face the day, to continue on; he is our Creator, our great love.
He is staggering. And he made you, just the way you are.
There’s a song that I heard (probably on One Tree Hill) that the lyrics apply here:
Anything to make you smile
You are the ever-living ghost of what once was
I never want to hear you say
That you'd be better off
Or you liked it that way
But no one is ever gonna love you more than I do
No one's gonna love you more than I do
(Band of Horses)
And shouldn’t we remember that. Our great Host, our Maker, our Only One; no one is going to love you more than the one who designed you. If you are caught between a grassy field and a desert, drowning under the waves, or wedged into a dark hole, look up. Pick up a rock and throw it.
You are, after all, staggering.
Take the hand of the one who made you and walk in his steady stride, until the giants fall away.
These days a fitness trend is to run a marathon. From programs like “Couch to 5K” to television shows about the trend (see episode of The Office labeled “Fun Run” in which Michael organizes a fundraiser to help out Rabies. It’s funny. Trust me.). I’m not a runner. In fact, I usually joke about how my favorite hobby or pastime is to be as lazy as possible. Then I typically delete or erase that sentence and write the truth, which is that I spend my time reading, watching TV, going to movies, playing with my daughter, making homemade cards, dancing in the living room with my daughter, trying to clean the apartment, or helping with several programs at church. And after all of that, I like to be as lazy as possible.
Sometimes when a challenge presents itself I prefer to shy away from the thing, skirt around the issue, or type it into my phone’s To Do list with the blue dot instead of the urgent red dot. Eh, I’ll call about the leaning apartment building tomorrow. Ah, yeah, the laundry can wait until it is not raining outside. Yup, I definitely don’t need to get those pictures printed until another paycheck comes in. Notice none of those things were really a challenge, but what can I say. I’m lazy at heart. I hide it under obsessive compulsion. Ha.
So when a true challenge arises, the situation can kind of get out of control. Imagine if Procrastination clashes with Punctuality. One swings a left hook, the other falls to the ground and huffs, “Dude!” It’s kind of an uneven fight.
Each day brings new challenges, extraordinary plotlines, fresh ideas, unusual events, unique activities, and distinct possibilities. There are also the old narrators, ancient ruins, and stale bread with a bit of mold lying in the cupboard. The new and the old combine to create whimpering toddlers, deflated stroller tires, cotton ball clouds, dewdrops on the green grass, and stacks of bills on the table where last night’s dinner napkins still lay crumpled and crisp. Some days are easier than others. On some days, we have to do hard things.
“An ultramarathon (also called ultra distance) is any sporting event involving running and walking longer than the traditional marathon length of 42.195 kilometres (26.2188 mi)… There are two types of ultramarathon events: those that cover a specified distance, and events that take place during specified time (with the winner covering the most distance in that time). The most common distances are 50 kilometres (31.069 mi), 100 kilometres (62.137 mi), 50 miles (80.467 km) and 100 miles (160.934 km), although many races have other distances. The 100 kilometers is an official International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) world record event” (Wikipedia).
“Sixty one year-old Cliff Young became a household name in 1983 when he beat all of the starters and won the first Westfield Sydney to Melbourne Ultra Marathon. He wasn’t known before the race – but was certainly know after that” (www.ultralegends.com). At 61 years of age, the potato farmer joined in the ultramarathon which comprised of 566 miles and took him five days, 15 hours, and four minutes to run. One website says, “Now, around the time of the 1983 edition of this yearly race, your average world-class uber-android athlete could complete this course by running the equivalent 21.6 marathons back-to-back-to-back over the course of 7 days, with a daily regimen of sprinting for 17 hours straight, sleeping for 7, then getting back up and doing it again the next morning.” Cliff Young finished the race nine hours faster than any previous record holder. And he did it wearing overalls and rain boots.
“He arrived at the start with the feeling that the other runners were looking at him with disdain. He knew he had something to prove,” (ultralegends.com).
You see; we can do hard things.
When I was younger my parents rented a movie called, “The Unsinkable Molly Brown,” about a woman on board the Titanic who survived; and not only did she survive, but she helped others along the way. She is best known for her actions on the Titanic, but she was actually a woman who lived an extraordinary life. Margaret “Molly” Brown was born in 1867 in Missouri to Irish immigrants. Her parents encouraged a strong education for all people and allowed her stay in school until the ripe old age of 13. She began working in factories then followed a line of work to Leadville, Colorado, where she met her future husband, J.J. Brown. Many rainy days in the mines, years of hungrily scratching through the mud, and thoroughly researched hunts later, the two became millionaires after a gold discovery. With the help of this added wealth and status, Margaret participated in social reform projects, serving in soup kitchens, feeding the poor, and finding housing for children on the streets. “Margaret’s commitment to social reform grew, and in 1901 she attempted to win a seat in the state senate. This action defied the common maxim, touted by her own husband, which stated that a woman’s name should appear in the newspaper only three times: at her birth, upon her marriage and at her death” (http://www.mollybrown.org/learn/about-molly-brown/).
I don’t know about you, but that would totally tick me off.
Anyways, to continue on, Margaret and J.J. loved to travel around the world, which brought them somewhat together, but the two quietly separated after 23 years of marriage. She continued to receive money from J.J., traveling and continuing in her “philanthropic endeavors,” which led her to board the Titanic in order to return home to visit a sickly grandson.
“Shortly before midnight on April 14th the Titanic struck ice. Margaret described her experience in the Newport Herald, ‘I stretched on the brass bed, at the side of which was a lamp. So completely absorbed in my reading I gave little thought to the crash that struck at my window overhead and threw me to the floor.’ After the crash, Margaret heard increasing confusion in the hall causing her to investigate further. ‘I again looked out and saw a man whose face was blanched, his eyes protruding, wearing the look of a haunted creature. He was gasping for breath and in an undertone he gasped, 'get your life saver'.’ After helping fellow passengers she was taken a hold of and with the words ‘you are going too’ was dropped four feet into the lowering lifeboat #6. Lifeboat #6 was equipped to hold 65 passengers. However, it pushed off from Titanic with 21 women, 2 men and a twelve-year-old boy on board. The women in the lifeboat rowed for hours. At 4:30 a.m. Margaret saw a flash of light. It was from the approaching ship Carpathia, which was the first to answer the distress call. After some difficulty, lifeboat #6 pulled up alongside of the Carpathia, and the occupants were pulled aboard one at a time.
Margaret, though sore, tired and cold, began to take action. Her knowledge of foreign languages enabled her to console survivors who spoke little English. She also rifled through the ship to find extra blankets and supplies to distribute to women who were sleeping in the dining room and corridors. Margaret realized that many women had lost everything -- husbands, children, clothes, money and valuables -- and needed to start a life in a new country. She rallied the first class passengers to donate money to help less fortunate passengers. Before the Carpathia reached New York $10,000 had been raised” (mollybrown.org).
You see, we can do hard things.
“Emma Edmonds was one of approximately 400 women who succeeded in enlisting in the army (either Union or Confederate) during the Civil War. Her uniqueness is that she not only succeeded in remaining in the army for several years, but was also eminently successful as a Union spy -- all while impersonating a man” (http://www.civilwarhome.com/edmondsbio.htm). Emma is one of the more fascinating ladies who, happening to be buried in the military section of Washington Cemetery, in Houston, Texas, caught my eye in middle school history class and will always garner my respect. An abusive father led her to run away from Canada to America, where she enlisted with the Union Army. “She cropped her hair, got a man's suit of clothing, took the name of Frank Thompson and tried to enlist. It took her four tries but finally she did in fact get sworn into the Union Army (at that time the physical consisted merely of asking the enlistee questions -- no medical examination). On April 25, 1861, Emma Edmonds alias Frank Thompson became a male nurse in the Second Volunteers of the United States Army” (civilwarhome.com). When Emma heard of a position in General McClellan’s division, she “studied all she could find on weapons, tactics, local geography and military personalities and when interviewed for the position, Private Thompson so impressed the staff that the position was his (hers)” (civilwarhome.com).
Playing this role as a part of her new life, she carried out eleven successful espionage infiltrations of the Confederate army. She darkened her skin with silver nitrate to play the part of a black man, Cuff; she acted the part of a fat Irish peddler woman named Bridget; she wandered into Louisville, Kentucky as a Southern gentleman named Charles. She worked as a nurse, she listened to gossip, unearthed valuable information about “Quaker guns” (look it up, it’s awesome), was injured while riding a horse during battle and still made it back to camp, and she unwittingly defected from the army because of a bout with malaria.
“After the war Emma wrote her memoirs titled ‘Nurse and Spy in the Union Army,’ which became a very popular book selling thousands of copies. Emma gave all of her profits from the book to the U.S. war relief fund. Once the book was completed Emma became homesick for her native Canada; when she returned there she found love. In 1867 Emma married Linus Seeyle and went back to the United States, initially to Cleveland, Ohio. The marriage was happy, and Emma raised three sons, one of whom enlisted in the army ‘just like Mama did’. While happy in her family life Emma continued to brood over being branded a deserter in the Civil War. With the encouragement of her friends she petitioned the War Department for a full review of her case. The case was debated and on March 28, 1884, the House of Representatives passed House Bill Number 5335 validating Mrs. Seeyle's case… On July 5, 1884, a special act of Congress granted Emma Edmonds alias Frank Thompson an honorable discharge from the army, plus a bonus and a veteran's pension of twelve dollars a month” (civilwarhome.com).
You see, we can do hard things.
“By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going...
By faith Abraham, even though he was past age—and Sarah herself was barren—was enabled to become a father because he considered Him faithful who had made the promise...
By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict...
By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter...
By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned...
By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient...
All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them... God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect” (excerpts from Hebrews 11).
You see, we can do hard things.
It may mean leaving comfortable surroundings, pretending to be something we are not, hoping for more than we can see, loving the unlovable, cutting off hair and old ties, ignoring disparaging remarks, pushing boundaries, welcoming strangers, listening to the banter of neighbors, losing visible love, and running more than you could ever imagine, wearing what may appear to be the wrong equipment, rowing through the cold night, and running away at just the right time. Sometimes it is following the fire in your heart or the calm voice in the quiet. We make mistakes, we misstep, we falter; but our God is faithful. Sometimes we don’t see the promises entirely fulfilled when we are around, but God builds kingdoms one brick at a time.
In all these stories of triumph, victory, and success, significant factors are the conflict and antagonists which ignited the fires of these people. Would Emma have left home if her father was benevolent instead of maleficent? What if Margaret listened to her husband and all those men who said women shouldn’t make the news? What if Cliff didn’t have to herd sheep? Our challenges are what make us better. To be honest, I get totally tired of challenges. I get tired of the brick-laying. I want to feel that inner motivation, that euphoric bliss of palm fronds waving in the breeze against a blue-sky backdrop. But sometimes I look back and see that I wouldn’t have the experience and knowledge I have without those mistakes, wrong turns, broken ideas, and plot twists. I sure wouldn't have all the stories to go along with them. Emma didn’t gather her information all at once, but through conversations, making stew, and fleeing in the rain. Cliff kept running through meal times, nap times, and even when his crew fell ill. Margaret had to ignore the negative husband and continue helping the needy and poor. Hard things are accomplished slowly, with perseverance, gratitude, and moments at a time.
Overcome evil with good. Overcome exhaustion with prayer. Overcome poopy diapers, lost naptimes, empty pantries, grumpy neighbors, long lists, dwindling bank accounts, toppled plans, with faith and knowledge that God is at your side the whole time.
I saw a craft on Pinterest that inspired me, and some days I really need some inspiration and a reminder that God works through me even when I don’t know it. You can do hard things. I can do hard things. Click here for a little project on the days when you need to remember that you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you.
“Because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you,” we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid” (Hebrews 13:5b-6a).
Maybe you’re the hero, the underdog, the tired mom, the empty glass, the sinking ship, the abusive father, the faker, the fat Irish woman, the miner, the reticent spouse, the defector, the runner in rain boots, the spooked horse, the lost child, the missing spy, the fearful parent, the veteran or the nomad. God has put you in the story; what are you going to do with the role?
I’ve said it before, but I preface this post with the fact that I have difficulty writing about a subject until I feel as if I’ve gotten some kind of grip on the thing. But two nights ago after several ounces of shed tears I’m still no closer to understanding or encompassing this new front of adversity which lurks toward me in the shadows. So come with me, won’t you, for at least a few minutes anyway, and think through some challenging reflections which have been surveying me from across the bathroom mirror.
If you had to make a decision knowing full well the possible tragic outcomes, would you agree to take the journey?
The question is dramatic, to be sure, but so is my ridiculous story. If history serves me right, it seems like if something can go awry when I’m around, it can. Who was stepped on while marching across a football field, saxophone flying through the air, plunging to my elbows while a nearby giant Hispanic apologized? This girl. Who tripped down the band hall stairs, backpack and books sprawling, while a small audience clapped? This girl. Who drove across Texas, Colorado, and Wyoming and back in the two worst blizzards those states have ever seen? This girl. Who had a scratch, which bled out, leading to a careflight, an emergency C-Section, six doctors operating a white board and critical survey, and a blood transfusion to save her life during pregnancy? This girl.
Let’s stop and back up on that last one.
If you pause and pick up your least favorite moment in life thus far, plus your worst phobia, and then mix them together, how does that feel? Now blend in a paper cut. Slowly stir in some lemon juice. Yes. Your stomach kind of churns, right, and you feel a bit dubious and irrational? Yes.
These are just the frosting of the cake that was one of the most significant trials of my life. And this trial, this feeling, this experience, this memory, all involve people.
What am I trying to say?
The other night I was thinking about children, siblings, and how my little girl is three years old in five days. I want her to have sisters. Sure, whatever, yeah, I want her to have “siblings” because I don’t get to determine if there is a brother in the mix. I don’t want her to be alone. Does God want her to be alone? “Never will I leave you,” He says, “Never will I forsake you.”
As long as I can remember I just assumed I would have possibly three children. I had two sisters, my mom had two sisters, my grandmother had several more than that I think…. I knew a few “only” children, but could count them on one hand.
As a momma who has been blessed to know several groups of wonderful women, I know quite a few women who have had trouble getting pregnant, having children, or going through pregnancy. The topic was one I did not consider to be an issue, even when my middle sister had complications; I just thought the problems had to do with her thinness (that I am jealous of and therefore placed the blame). Turns out I have my own special idiosyncrasies to outwit. These quirks, a bleeding disorder and pre-eclampsia, are my own battle to fight. My husband confirms that he will fight with me, but let’s face it, the battle ground is my own flesh and blood.
I think I’m tiptoeing around what I’m trying to discuss. Charlie asked me what was wrong the other night and he eventually came to name the topic of “children,” as I lay there quiet, unable to form the right words.
“I’m scared of the future.”
“I’m scared of having a baby.”
“I’m scared for Madeleine.”
“I feel inadequate.”
“I don’t want to torture myself again.”
“If I died this place would be a complete disaster and I don’t want Madeleine to grow up in a pigsty.”
There are more feelings, thoughts, issues, and concerns than I can label in any few sentences. They are a myriad of hopes, fears, anxieties, shadowed thoughts, and anger. Above all the inner turmoil is a working, growing knowledge of God’s power, which often sheds light on the struggle and contains the clamor. An easy reference to the knowledge and wisdom that God is bigger than fear, than anxiety, shadowed thoughts, anger, and all hope, fiction or non, rests within my heart and iPhone. But a real factor is that I nearly died. The facts are that the doctors lectured me, the helicopter flew me, the doctor cut me open, the anesthesiologist held my hand, and my insides tremble to remember the blue sheet, the pain, oh the pain, and the very long, hard recovery.
At this point we pause. Can you relate? I hope your story is not scary rides in a helicopter through the black night, blurry faces, missing hours, or dim hallways, but I can share stories for so many who have faced an equivalent amount of distress, apprehension, loss, separation, agony, and heartache.
We are a broken people.
“Wonderful, merciful Savior
Precious Redeemer and Friend
Who would have thought that a Lamb
Could rescue the souls of men
Oh, you rescue the souls of men
Counselor, Comforter, Keeper
Spirit we long to embrace
You offer hope when our hearts have
Hopelessly lost the way
Oh, we hopelessly lost the way
You are the One that we praise
You are the One we adore
You give the healing and grace
Our hearts always hunger for
Oh, our hearts always hunger for
Almighty, infinite Father
Faithfully loving Your own
Here in our weakness You find us
Falling before Your throne
Oh, we're falling before Your throne.”
Wonderful, Merciful Savior by Phillips, Craig and Dean
As each day dawns my daughter is taller, my hands are a little more weathered, and some sort of invisible deadline approaches. He’s wearing a black suit, carrying Jack Sparrow’s compass and a dagger in his left breast pocket. And he whistles a tune very much like a nursery rhyme, but the song is nearly indiscernible. His lips turn up in a smirk, while his green eyes convey concern and revelation.
After experiencing the whole ordeal, I know much more about my health, hospital procedure, the limits of humans, and babies. I know how to take better care of myself, eat healthier, and am in a good exercise routine. My life is much different than before. The assumption can be made that if or when the situation presents itself I could handle the thing much better this time around; instead of letting it sweep me off my feet I could tell the situation to sit down, shut up, and let me cook dinner because we’re having broccoli tonight so just deal with that fact and set the table. But those thoughts come to me when I’m brave or have had a lot of caffeine. As I wash my hair in the shower, or gasp for breath during the cardio portion in the sand pit at the park, that’s when I remember the puffy feet, the ambling limp, and the hunger pains.
You know, people either lecture or love. Sometimes I tell myself to buck up and deal, but sometimes I see that deadline walking around the apartment complex, picking up a stray piece of trash, and I close the curtain before he sees that I’m home. He’s not just there to discuss children, but also the stack of borrowed books on my bedside table, the laundry situation, the lady who digs through the dumpster, and if I’m going to live in this apartment complex in this town for much longer.
If you had to make a decision knowing full well the possible tragic outcomes, would you agree to take the journey?
What if that house you are about to purchase has termites? What if the car doesn’t start tomorrow? What if you fall down the stairs and no one is there to help? What if your employers no longer see the value in your work? What if all the politicians go crazy? What if the plans fall apart? What if that deadline knocks at the door and he calls out your name?
I want to say the answer is as easy as believing on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.
I want to say the Lord’s presence will go with you and give you rest.
I want to say that God will give you hope.
I want to say that you don’t need to let your heart be troubled.
And the utter, plain, astounding truth is this: these statements are all true. Even when I crumble, my Lord is near me all the time. The plans aren’t always simple, but I’m not alone, and I can’t let that deadline determine my faith.
“Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”
“The LORD replied, ‘My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.’”
“Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.”
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God.”
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
Sometimes when God saves us, he takes us home. Oftentimes he answers in a way we do not expect. Usually he will challenge us to grow our minds, hearts, and spirits closer to his presence. Always he is with us, to the end of the age.
So if you need to cling to that, feel free, because I do too.
“Well, a fake Jamaican took every last dime with that scam
It was worth it just to learn from slight-of-hand
Bad news comes, don't you worry even when it lands
Good news will work its way to all them plans
We both got fired on the exactly the same day
Well we'll float on,
Good news is on the way…
And we'll all float on alright
Already we'll all float on
Alright don't worry
Even if things end up a bit too heavy
We'll all float on alright.”
Float On by Modest Mouse
My creator didn’t put me in charge of my daughter’s sibling situation. He allowed me to be a part of Madeleine’s life. If he gifts me with the opportunity to love on another, then regardless of how that child happens to meander into my life, I hope I will have the courage to welcome her…or him…with all the life within me, regardless of how many hours we are allotted, and accept the challenges that arrive intertwined with the joy. But maybe there is more to the picture than I can see right now; and maybe I’m here with these eccentricities so I can love on others who may be walking similarly troubled pathways to share with them the good news of which I need to remind myself. Whether a child, friend, neighbor, stranger at the park, a stranger at the dumpster, or a soul who is stumbling under the heavy load, maybe we can share our stories and see whose experience cost the most money.
With shaking hands, weak arms, and possibly a little twinge of jealousy for those who seem to have it easier, we unlock the door. I guess that deadline isn’t so big after all. He’s just an apparition anyway.
But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. (1 Corinthians 1:9)
Sara's Lemonade Stand