Refreshing Hearts One Sentence At A Time
In this world you will have trouble. But take heart: I have overcome the world.
If anyone understands having trouble, or hassles, it is me. I’m sitting at my brightly lit computer screen with a ton of programs open, documents needing to be printed, and I can’t print them because the printer uninstalled itself and I have no idea how to fix it. There’s a stack of papers to my left. There’s a stack of papers to my right. There’s a stack of toys, musical instruments, and more papers, and weights on the couch across the room. They are homeless and have taken up residence on that futon. A stack of trash bags and boxes sits by the back door. There are three bags full of stuff that I need to get out of the car. There’s always something to get done, to be accomplished, and there’s always something breaking. In fact, my email window won’t close and there’s a white box just sitting in the middle of my screen that won’t go away. Insert coffee here.
I went to Sunday School this morning. I’d been asked to teach the lesson because the usual teachers weren’t there. In fact, nobody who was usually there showed up. I stood at the window stirring my coffee, about ready to leave and go home, when one couple came in, apologizing for being late. “But hey,” the man said with a smile, “Where two or three gather, there God is with us.” The three of us sat down at the big white, round tables and chatted about some random fun memories and the chaos of 8th grade boys.
After the coffee was sipped, we began the lesson. See, I am an online instructor but I don’t do a lot of Teaching. I read papers and post comments about them, helping students write better. So I was excited and quite nervous, because lately I seem to be fading away in the quiet roar that is 2015. I was excited because this was interesting stuff to be learning – John 16. This is one of the chapters following the Last Supper, where Jesus gives his last important message to the disciples. He ends this chapter with one of the best verses in the Bible: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (33).
I was nervous because I’m just little ol’ me: me who is klutzy, me who is tongue-tied; me who is short and has super-thick glasses; me who hosted an open house to which nobody came; me who sits at a computer trying to write sense into a world of advertisements, fake headlines, and captioned pictures; me who watches Netflix before bed because those characters feel like friends; me who really loves sunshine, movies, great books, and fun walks, and cuddles with my baby girls.
So while I was standing at the window and stirring my coffee, silent thoughts of defeat crept in. The sun shone in through the windows, but the empty room dimmed. Silence reigned, and a solitary, little ol’ someone wondered if it mattered if she existed and what would be the repercussions if she were gone. Nobody would be there to miss her.
Except somebody showed up, just in time.
“Did you notice?” my Bible asks in bold, black print. Did I notice? Did they notice as they walked in? Shake it off, I thought. Let’s begin. I’m so done with this church thing. Nobody cares if I’m here or not. See, having a baby has its challenges, and among them are the time restrictions. Nap time takes a lot of precedence with me because with a disturbed nap is a disturbed night’s sleep, which is a disturbed nap, which is a disturbed night’s sleep, and pretty soon there’s a vicious, grumpy, bleary-eyed cycle. And if I’m at home while baby sleeps, then I certainly can’t be at activities or with groups of people. Which means there are a lot of “No, I can’t do that’s,” and, “Sorry, I have to leave early’s.” And soon nobody notices if you aren’t there, because they expect it. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the cloud hovers lower.
In John 16, Jesus informs his friends and followers that he is leaving them, going back to the One who sent him. He is sending his Counselor to be with them instead. “It is for your good that I am going away,” Jesus tells them (v 7). They don’t understand but instead are consumed with grief. “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear,” Jesus adds (v 12). They pass looks among themselves, confused, hearts wrenching. Well, they wonder, where is he going, and when is he coming back? Is this a quick trip to the mall, or what? He informs them that he is leaving them in good hands, hands that can only be there if he is gone. He is leaving them hands that reach far beyond what one person can grasp, but hands that can touch lives and hearts throughout the ages and among the global population. The men continue to stare at him, mouths agape. Jesus even adds that they will have trouble – they will be kicked out of church, that they will be challenged, that they will be forgotten by their friends and families – and in fact they will even abandon him (v 31). Of course they vehemently shake their heads in bewilderment and denial. They are too full of grief and misery to hear any more from him. And seeing this on their faces, hearing the whispers of their thoughts, he adds, “But take heart! I have overcome the world!”
Matthew Henry is a great commentator and researcher of the Bible. His commentary adds this: “By only looking at that which was against them, and overlooking that which was for them, they were so full of sorrow that there was no room left for joy. It is the common fault and folly of melancholy Christians to dwell only on the dark side of the cloud” (405).
Did you notice? Jesus isn’t here. He’s not at Starbucks, he isn’t knocking on doors in khakis and a tie, and he certainly is not yelling on a street corner holding a sign. However, his Spirit, our great Counselor, has been sent in his place, to wrap our spirits into His. “The Spirit will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you (v13-14)…The Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God (v 27).” The men sitting around Jesus’ table were still perplexed. Henry states, “The notion of Christ’s secular kingdom was so deeply rooted in them. When we think the scripture must be made to agree with the false ideas we have imbibed, no wonder that we complain of its difficulty; but when our reasonings are captured by revelation, that matter becomes easy” (407). As my favorite author stated once, “That’s how things become clear. All of a sudden. And then you realize how obvious they’ve been all along” (Madeleine L’Engle). Here we come to a paradox, and a paradox that makes the difference between life, death, hope, and loss for many people: I am small. I am often wrong. I am only one. But God loves me. Jesus said it right there, in his living, breathing Word. I believe in Him, that he is the truth, that he is hope, that he is love. And he loves me. The same applies to you: you are small. You are one. But God created you, piece by piece, strand of hair by strand of hair, and you matter. You matter simply because God loves you.
This revelation may not seem large, in fact it may seem obtuse and too simple. It may not be the answer you are looking for. Sometimes I sincerely question if it matters if God loves me, because there are a billion other people on the planet as well, so if there’s a billion other dots of dust on the ground, does one even count.
That’s why He is God, and you – and especially I – are not. We are still in the dark. God sees from beginning to end, and he knows your high value. “Wait till God shall reveal even this to us” (Henry, 407).
My questions of value and significance often occur when my little world shifts away from peace. Lately the schedule has been busy and full of lonely, draining hours. There are children to feed and care for, classes to teach, and restless nights. The next few weeks will only hold more of them and that knowledge in itself is a binding force. However, I suppose I ought now to take hold of Jesus’ words to his followers, and as Henry put it, “Being forewarned are forearmed” (405).
“Peace in Christ is the only true peace,” Henry states. This brings comfort and healing. Are you seeking light in the relentless dark? Here He is. This world holds trouble – “Men persecute [Christ followers] because they are so good, and God corrects them because they are no better. So between both they will have trouble” (Henry 410). So indeed, whether you are following the directions or upholding the guidelines, or simply trying to get home with ten sacks full of groceries in the 100 degree heat, there will be trouble. Expect it. And at the same time, know that you are NOT alone. You ARE armed with the knowledge and constant presence of the creator of the universe, if you will but acknowledge your sometimes-silent companion.
“In the midst of the troubles of this world it is the duty and interest of Christ’s disciples to be of good cheer; as sorrowful indeed, in compliance with the temperament of the age, and yet always rejoicing, always cheerful, even in sufferings…’Take heart,’ Jesus says, ‘I have overcome the world.’ Never was there such a conqueror of the world as Christ was, and we ought to be encouraged by it. Christ has overcome the world before us; so that we may look on it as a conquered enemy” (Henry 410). Gather strength, harness it, and unleash those words in your utter weakness.
When the car breaks down, when the five-year-old spills her cup of milk, “when the pieces seem too shattered to gather off the floor” (All Sons & Daughters), when nobody seems to notice if you even exist, this is still the truth. These things are all simple tasks to help you see God’s presence. I’m not always certain of the Why behind those sufferings. We don’t always get that answer. But we do get the warning, and we get the comfort, and we indeed get the Spirit, our Counselor, who links arms with us in the pouring rain. We get the How. How do we bear it? The tools are gathered in a great Book in your suitcase, and can be revealed to you if you ask.
Did you notice? This day can be brighter. Did you notice? You are held and loved. Did you notice? “Where two or three are gathered….” Be one of the two or three, and just show up. Even if showing up means you rush in late, with messy hair. You never know where Church can be held, and you offer utter significance with your presence. Keep waking up. Keep your eyes open and look up. Dwell on the bright side of the cloud. Take heart. In the errands and the chaos, and in the quiet hours, your Almighty offers the universe. He has already overcome it. Now it’s your turn.
Henry, Matthew. The NIV Mtthew Henry Commentary: In One Volume. Edited by Rev. Dr. Leslie F. Church, Zondervan. 1992.
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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.
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.
Lately the word “Brave” has been floating around in the recesses of my mind. It’s wafting about like a speck of dust on a sunbeam, or a balloon in an air-conditioning draft. It’s bumping about, touching on memories, last looks, final hugs, sunrises, cups of coffee, and the thumping of feet on the pavement at the park. Do I consider myself brave? Nah. Not on any given day.
I saw the movie Brave. I kind of thought the protagonist was a little rebellious and the floaty-glowy-ball-light-fairies were a tad unrealistic. In my daily life, there are absolutely no floaty-glowy-ball-light-fairies hovering about, tempting me to follow them. That would actually make things quite a bit easier than they are. Instead, I related more to the mother character in the movie, and understand feeling more bear than bonnie lass.
Is “brave” a warrior, a champion, who fights to the death in arenas when there is no other choice than to thrust defiant fists into the air? Is being brave challenging “fate”? Is being brave a puffing out of the chest, a brandishing of the sword? Is it brave to just open your eyes in the morning and consider getting out of bed?
The dictionary first puts the word Brave in the adjective category. It is: 1) possessing or exhibiting courage or courageous endurance; 2) making a fine appearance. Then as a noun it is 1) a brave person, 2) a warrior, especially among North American Indian tribes; and 3) a bully; a boast or challenge. As a verb used with objects, it means 1) to meet or face courageously: to brave misfortunes; 2) to defy; challenge; dare, and 3) to make splendid.
Stick with me here.
1. bold, intrepid, daring, dauntless, heroic. Brave, courageous, valiant, fearless, gallant refer to confident bearing in the face of difficulties or dangers. ‘Brave’ is the most comprehensive: it is especially used of that confident fortitude or daring that actively faces and endures anything threatening. ‘Courageous’ implies a higher or nobler kind of bravery, especially as resulting from an inborn quality of mind or spirit that faces or endures perils or difficulties without fear and even with enthusiasm. ‘Valiant’ implies a correspondence between an inner courageousness and external deeds, particularly of physical strength or endurance. ‘Fearless’ implies unflinching spirit and coolness in the face of danger. ‘Gallant’ implies a chivalrous, impetuous, or dashing bravery.
Is picking up my husband’s socks and underwear from the closet floor considered brave? I venture to say yes. Is killing a spider, when there’s no one else around to kill it, brave? Again, it is a two-armed mortal against an eight-limbed demon, and hence therefore deserves the label of dauntless.
What if there’s a fear of something greater, of a severe earth shift, of loss? What if there is an ongoing season of goodbyes and what's left is rather sadness than gumption? What if the heavy is also dark?
“It is awfully hard to be brave, when you're only a Very Small Animal.”
- A. A. Milne (Winnie-The-Pooh)
In these shifting sands, I often feel like a Very Small Animal, just one pinpoint among the many, many stars. The reality is that I am not invincible, dreams shift and shatter, and yellow-brick roads sometimes lead to dead ends. Sometimes life is a quick drop, a sudden stop. And what do we do? We can look up into the blue sky and wonder who is watching. We can glance over our shoulders to see if anybody saw when we fell down and skinned our knees. We can wipe away that glimmer of a tear because there just isn’t time right now.
I have always liked the movie Elizabethtown. It is the story of a man whose great invention at a shoe company craters and he is fired; while he rigs a contraption to commit suicide, his sister calls to inform him that his father had a heart attack and died. Yeah yeah, it sounds sad, whatever. This is the platform from which he falls, however, and the audience takes the journey with him, facing failure and its wretched aftermath, burial, crazy extended family, intense sorrow, regret, new love, and fresh beginnings.
“You have five minutes to wallow in the delicious misery,” Claire Colburn says in a note to Drew Baylor. “Enjoy it, embrace it, discard ...and proceed.”
“Sadness is easier because it's surrender. I say, make time to dance alone with one hand waving free.”
I think the writers of this story understood sadness and its toll. We see Drew dancing under a grove of shade trees after scattering some of his dad’s ashes along the road. He cries; sometimes you can dance and cry at the same time, and it’s more about being in the moment than searching for triumph.
And one quote Claire gives to Drew, which sits on a back shelf of my mind for those difficult days when I really don’t want to do the laundry but the closet is stinky so it’s either my nose or my sanity, and sometimes my nose wins…..
Claire says, “We are intrepid. We carry on.”
When I first heard that word in the film, and taking the context of that moment, for some reason I assumed the word ‘intrepid,’ meant something like ‘long-suffering’ or some glorious, persevering, walking word. You know -- a word that has to do with walking long distances. I know; my vocabulary should be better. Sometimes it is. But today as I looked up synonyms with ‘brave,’ there appeared the word, ‘intrepid.’ Ah, then. Intrepid means ‘fearless and bold.’ Plucky. Dauntless. Resolute.
We are intrepid. We carry on.
Is a person just brave when he needs to be? How does bravery – courage – makes itself present and perfect? Does it count to be brave if you really don’t want to be? What if you have the opportunity to walk away and live, when walking toward the object of fear could mean death or intense loneliness? What if you have to make the decision on your own?
“David also said to Solomon his son, ‘Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the LORD God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you.’”
1 Chronicles 28:20
That one sums about all of it up. It works for any problem, any situation. God will not fail or leave. Be strong, be courageous, do the work.
How do I know if it’s supposed to be my work? What if I’m just putting that pressure on myself?
I don’t know.
“Even cowards can endure hardship; only the brave can endure suspense.”
~ Mignon McLaughlin
“Living by faith includes the call to something greater than cowardly self-preservation.”
~ J.R.R. Tolkien
“We have to be braver than we think we can be, because God is constantly calling us to be more than we are.”
~ Madeleine L'Engle
“Our fate lives in us. You only have to be brave enough to see it.”
~ Pixar’s “Brave”
I don’t know or attribute much to ‘fate’ and its friends. But there is a journey, a path, a web, a plotline, through which we travel while on this earth. What I’m starting to see is that the more difficult the landscape, the more I see of my true self. I see the selfish flippancy, the materialistic cravings, the immature belief. I see the shaking flesh, the whimpering muscles. Through the emptying out there is an instigation of firmness within me; as the complaining sifts out like powdery flour, a more solid hand forms a tangible faith. You see, I am petty, I am weak. I am late, I am clumsy, I am dubious. But the God who made me has me here to learn more about his security. He is secure, he is Always. He is intrepid.
But I don’t always know his plan, and that kind of makes my heart four-cups-of-coffee jittery.
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
~ Winston Churchill
“Bran thought about it. 'Can a man still be brave if he's afraid?'
'That is the only time a man can be brave,' his father told him.”
~ George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones
“Before I knew you, I thought brave was not being afraid. You've taught me that bravery is being terrified and doing it anyway.”
~ Laurell K. Hamilton, Blood Noir
So, maybe, sticking around counts as bravery. Not everyone sticks around.
“I think laughter may be a form of courage. As humans we sometimes stand tall and look into the sun and laugh, and I think we are never more brave than when we do that.”
- Linda Ellerbee
Let’s refer back to the synonyms of brave: “‘Courageous’ implies a higher or nobler kind of bravery, especially as resulting from an inborn quality of mind or spirit that faces or endures perils or difficulties without fear and even with enthusiasm.”
Facing the changes in life, just by walking through them, counts as bravery. Humans are flawed, containing an inborn quality of mind and spirit that will endure peril and difficulty. Can we face our flaws without fear? Can we face the cold winter, the bare tree branches and hardened earth? Can we face this with enthusiasm? What if our biggest challenge lies within us?
“It is easy to be brave from a safe distance.”
Claire: “You want to be really great? Then have the courage to fail big and stick around. Make them wonder why you're still smiling. That's true greatness to me.”
“Why are you downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.”
He is the Everlasting, the hope and the healer. If our God is for us, then who can stop us?
As a child of the King, there is no logical, physical, or mental reason not to be brave. His spirit is in me. He rescues me every morning, every sunset, every spider, every sprained ankle, every bruised ego. He makes me courageous, if only I will let him make me fearless. It’s my choice to give in to the sadness or ask him for a little more strength.
“And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” ~ Philippians 4:19
His riches are more than just padded bank accounts, stacks of gold bars, and stock market dividends. His riches are strength for the weary, comfort, fullness of heart, mercy, seeing Him, peace, and inheriting the kingdom of heaven. His gifts are close hugs, warm beds, gut-clutching laughter, cloudless skies, and the soft whispering of the stars.
His reward is his presence.
I think I can be brave so long as he’s holding my hand. Then I can make time to dance along with my other hand waving free.
<http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/brave?s=t> (3 Sept 2012)
“Expect to have hope rekindled. Expect your prayers to be answered in wondrous ways. The dry seasons in life do not last. The spring rains will come again.” ~ Sarah Ban Breathnach
If I can categorize this year so far, it falls under the heading of Seasons of Loss. It’s super exciting to read about people’s seasons of loss, to be sure, which is why I try to avoid writing about it. I don’t want to focus on what’s missing, what’s broken, and how cloudy it is outside, because that is not uplifting or encouraging, and what I need most in my life is to be encouraged. There is very little outright encouragement, and what little I receive I cling to and tuck away for when my toddler pees on me.
Writing becomes a difficult task instead of a creative outlet when I feel pressure around me to do better than I am currently doing. When I feel as if I’m failing, flailing about, or simply falling down, I find it hard to supply anybody else with refreshment when a warm cup of cocoa is what I need the most. But as I was showering this morning, my little girl snacking on Goldfish crackers, watching a cartoon in the living room, my mind rhythmically whirling about with the long List Of Stuff To Do, the thought which appealed most was that today was a day to write; to push open the heavy wooden door and find a way to encourage myself. And maybe in the process someone else can read some much needed words as well.
So what’s this loss I’ve mentioned? Now, I’m going to be honest on here, and people have a hard time with honesty when it steps on toes. But it’s my story and I can’t recolor or diminish the antagonists I’m facing right now.
My sister, who is also a best friend, has moved across the world and I can’t even mail her a letter. I’m publishing my first book; the editorial review came back and I received a big, fat, red F on the grammar. This is quite the shock for me, as I’ve never received negative grammatical feedback before. The church I attend is becoming a difficult place in which to operate.
Another conflicting emotion that doesn’t really fall in the category of Loss, but more of Conflict, is my inner struggle with ministry to others versus making money to help us save for traveling to see family and buy a house. I have committed this year to coordinate a ministry at church, and I am so excited to be able to utilize my organizing skills and make new friends to fill these voids I am experiencing, but it’s quite a time commitment. The opponent on the field is teaching English classes; I can get paid some decent money to help improve students’ writing and take part in educational camaraderie. But this too is a significant time commitment. A third factor is creating designs for my husband’s multimedia business. He works full time and so I design and communicate and rearrange and email during much of my “free time,” aka my toddler’s nap time.
I’ve been kind of a wreck lately.
I don’t know how I get myself in positions like this, where I am overwhelmingly busy. It makes me start to feel like a leaf in the wind, and my brain starts to feel as if it’s in the wave pool at Hurricane Harbor.
I think a very significant additional factor is that almost every solid ground I have right now is being shaken. My parents, also, are moving 1,000 miles away. The process began about three years ago when they first decided they wanted to sell the two-story wonder where they have lived for 23 years. They had put it in the market before and I began saving up how the rooms smelled like fresh air conditioning and a hint of perfume, the feel of the thick, light brown carpet under my toes, and the way the sunlight drifted in through the windows in the sun room. The sound of the cicadas outside the front bedroom in the big tree; the shade patterns in the backyard, the sunny spot where the pool used to be, the rough gray aging of the wood on the tree house my dad made for me when I was in middle school. The mysterious sound of footsteps upstairs when no one was there.
All these sounds, smells, memories, filling the majority of my life; they are my home. It is the neighborhood where I cannot get lost. There is the peach tree that died that one winter and Bonnie pushed it over and we rolled it around the backyard. There’s the spot under the trees in the backyard where the rabbit hutches used to sit; the far back corner where Rachel and I played in the trees, hiding from our parents because they wanted to go home after Pizza Hut Tuesday Night was over. The bedroom that used to be pastel yellow with blue trim where I would dream of what would be and what could be and how cute Devon Sawa was and if I would ever drive my own Mustang.
Now it is three years later and we’ve had our last Christmas here, our last funeral meal. Our last baby shower for a friend. The house is on the market and my parents are moving much, much farther than two hours away.
There will be firsts, beginnings, and new paint smells.
But in the silence that falls between breaths, in the painful thumping within the chest and last looks around, it is easy to feel the spinning earth ready to leave you behind, just like everyone else.
Two weeks ago I helped my parents put away the sentimentality and clean the house from top to bottom. It was a time to paint over 23 years of memories, and clean out the grime that you never notice until you start thinking about a room from someone else’s point of view. One day I used up two whole Mr. Clean Magic Erasers. On the first floor. We installed lighting fixtures and mirrors and cabinets and vacuumed and put away and boxed up and yes, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Wave your hand in a circle as you read that.
As I scrubbed and washed and Lysoled and wiped and scrubbed again, it provided some clarity and time to think through all the sentimental jargon my brain has been feeding me, for I am a sentimental fool. It’s hard to throw things away when you’re a sentimental fool. But hence we work, and aspire to fix our broken natures. What else do we have to do? If this is my purpose, if this is my privilege to care for my person and my family and homes, then I should be present and scrubbing my hardest.
The scrubbing kind of clears out the junk, you know? It strips away some of the grime in your brain that says, “This has to be a certain way,” because it’s always been that way. But what I’ve seen with my two sisters, parents, cousins, in-laws, and distant relatives coming and going to far off places, that what we can see is so limited. What I know is so limited. How I live is so limited.
Do I live up to my potential, do I act in the full power of the One who made me and gave me tasks to accomplish? Do I instead give in to my smallness, to my loss?
I grew up knowing well the Bible verse from Colossians 3:
“Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, 24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”
As a guideline, this is how I try to work, to do my best in what I commit to doing. I do not always commit to doing housework; let’s be honest. I do commit to leading, organizing, volunteering, helping, serving, and cooking meals when needed. I over-commit, to continue in my honesty. I think I do it to find more purpose, to see some kind of gain in all this loss.
But are we slaves? Are we working for God’s purpose? Are we living in the knowledge that one day we will receive an inheritance? What are our earthly masters? Do we store up change in piggy banks, heap extra sets of sheets, stack cans of tomato sauce, pile up pairs of shoes, and cram tubs full of purses to help us assuage the deficit?
Dust, thou art vile.
For real, I hate dusting. Think about what dust is made up of: Dust in homes, offices, and other human environments contains small amounts of plant pollen, human and animal hairs, textile fibers, paper fibers, minerals from outdoor soil, human skin cells, burnt meteorite particles and many other materials which may be found in the local environment (Thanks, Wikipedia.).
Hence, we are even storing our own dead skin.
What are we doing? Do we continue to serve our stuff? What do we get rid of?
Dust came from the fall of man. “For dust you are, and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:19b). The fact that our bodies disintegrate is part of the consequences of our actions. Right?! We started dying, started falling apart; but one day we won’t be falling apart any more.
Is there dust in heaven? Think of those mansions... if “there’s a big, big house” for me, there best be a big, big cleaning crew.
We work for more than what we can see. Does it matter if there is treasure or reward for what we do? What about the unseen things? I can scrub and scrub and very likely the next person walking in the room won’t give a lick about how it looks or who cleaned it or how much sweat went into it. What matters?
Don’t we look at the rows and rows of books at the library? Does it matter if I ever get a book published; does it matter if I make some kind of mark on humanity? A friend of mine just returned from a trip to Scotland and told us of a church that was built a thousand years ago. Think of that; think how many lifetimes ago when each rock was cut, trimmed, and placed on another. This friend told us that each rock laid was inscribed with the mason’s initial so that at the end of the week the foreman would give to each laborer according to the work he had done. And, a thousand years later, those notations and inscriptions are still there. Do any of us leave such a durable symbol, an irrevocable mark, to leave behind when we can’t speak for ourselves any longer?
I was the kid who earned reward certificates at the school ceremonies. You know, for good attendance, good behavior, good grades. I wanted to be the best and it was usually pretty easy to attain. I did own a deep fear of failure, letting people down, and getting in trouble, which were strong motivators to my educational success and still obligate me today. I’m working on beating those; but one thing at a time, please.
I’ve been going through old tubs full of old stories, old rewards; as I toss them into trash cans now I see that it is the shaped character, the transformed heart, that are the treasure. The gold stickers, trophies, labeled coffee cups, the framed artwork, is all a bit silly if it’s the goal. Who knows the full extent to what we get one day, but is it what drives us? What gets us through those tears, sweat, or painful defeats?
“You are my refuge and my shield; I have put my hope in your word” (Psalm 119:114).
Knowing and acting in God’s power and love are what count. As a child of God, I am more than I think I can be. It is his fullness that facilitates my body when my arms shake in exhaustion. It is his common sense that compels me to find his presence when there is nothing of myself left to give. Life is hard. But God is good.
Sometimes that’s all you can say.
“Turn your eyes upon Jesus.
Look full in his wonderful face.
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of his glory and grace.”
~ Helen Lemmel
So as we walk away from home, from the familiar, from what we thought we would hope for, we glance back to the city where dreams play a stark, dissonant chord compared to reality’s song. There, the disposal trucks carry away your baggage and children make new memories far different than yours. This is the place where, beyond a blurry brown hillside, possibility and assumption reside. Maybe what waits is over-commitment and flakiness, but hopefully someone will understand and bring you a Snicker Bar Latte just when you need it most.
“Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed [his promise to Abraham] with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf” (Hebrews 6:17-20).
He has claimed his children for his own and doesn’t mind the dust. On our darkest days, within our weary hearts, we have this Hope, this almighty Strength, which will never let us go or leave us behind. He walks with us down the road, suitcase in hand, toward the next season that awaits us.
My husband, daughter, a good friend, and I were eating dinner at the newest Chinese restaurant in town. There was the obligatory fortune cookie at the end of the meal, as we wiped the teriyaki sauce off our lips and broke into those delightful cardboard-esque treats. The friendly server handed my daughter her own cookie and I helped open the package. After cracking it open, I pulled out the paper strip to read what hers said. “Do not fear failure,” it said. The sentence actually made me pause, because I think that is something I definitely want to teach my Little M, and myself as well. I was going to keep it and maybe put it in her baby scrapbook, when she suddenly stuck it in her mouth and then spit it onto the floor. Oh well.
See, I’m at a point where there are a few branches coming up in my pathway, and there’s a quiet, unsettled, and apprehensive voice in the back of my mind who continually cautions, “Are you sure you want to do that?” Whether the choice is picking out which shirt to wear, buying a book, or asking my husband to take out the garbage, the voice is always there. She’s gotten quieter over the years, but sometimes starts to disturb the peace upstairs. And with the ideas of buying a house, changes in our family life, and furthering action on my passions, all beginning to stir into the pot, she’s really started to affect the amount of adrenaline pulsing through my veins at any given time.
“What if --,” she begins to say.
“Hush,” I reply.
“What about --,” she falters, her hands waving about in the air.
“We have already thought about that, and I don’t want to worry right now,” I answer, shaking my head.
“But what will people think?!” she asks, slapping her cheek, her eyes widening.
“I don’t have time for you right now, I need to figure out what’s for dinner,” I say, turning my back on her, and turning up the television.
“Fine,” she yells, stomping into the bedroom. “But I’ll be back in eight minutes to discuss this with you then!”
I’m someone who you can say errs on the side of caution. I’m clumsy enough, I’m self-conscious enough, I’ve had enough real-life-tv-sitcom moments to have learned a lesson or two.
1) Don’t talk about your waiter at the restaurant, especially when he could be standing right behind you as you insult his order-taking techniques.
2) Maybe don’t let two guys argue about you at midnight in front of an apartment complex? Go inside first.
3) Watch your steps in unfamiliar territory. And familiar territory.
Along with that cautionary, somewhat slow-moving persona you can imagine, add to it a certain obsessive compulsiveness and introversion that, if it weren’t for my lack of impeccable housekeeping skills, could easily become a light case of agoraphobia. Fortunately, I’m terrible at dusting and love to go outdoors for the fresh air. I do realize this post makes me seem a little bit crazy. Nonstandard. Anomalous. Peculiar.
And so it goes.
I was sitting at church the other day I saw a tiny spider on the floor by my feet. I thought, “I didn’t see that spider when I sat down or I wouldn’t have sat here.” Then that made me think about all the things I CANNOT see around me, like bitten-off fingernails or dust mites or skin flakes. Yeah. Gross. But then it also kind of made me think, you know, there’s really a lot more that all of us cannot see. There is a spiritual world around us we don’t usually notice. If we could actually see those life-sized spiders before they were next to us, some anger, frustrations, and trip-ups would just be so much easier to avoid.
Next, the thought came that, honestly, our dim eyes see so very little. We have our own insufficient perspectives, our own petty fears and emasculations. We accept feeble attempts and shaky knees, and to have any fear at all almost seems to fear everything. And that’s not how it’s supposed to be.
“You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world… We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
1 John 4:4; 13-18
A quick search on BibleGateway brings up 83 verses for the search, “do not be afraid.” That’s crazy, those.
Sometimes, fearing creepy spiders is the easier reaction. Sometimes, when the bombs begin dropping around you, forgetting that you’ve won the battle seems more believable. When the mortar bursts and shrapnel scrapes across your heart, it’s easier to give in to the darkness. But we aren’t supposed to let the shadows win. The children of God have overcome, are complete, and we discard fear.
And failure, well, it seems that God cares about our acts, our hearts, and that we dwell in him; that we obey his commands, that we seek purity in him. I don’t touch on the category of “purity” very often; that might have something to do with my aversion to chores. But what seems to be the majority of what is considered success for a Christ-follower is to be joyful, loving, kind, gentle, and good. It doesn’t matter what kind of shelter you reside in, if you have three perfect children, or thousands of followers on Twitter. Although it would be rad to have a booth dedicated to my art at Comic Con. But no, that’s not really the goal. That’s not what keeps you going when the storm begins to whirl.
We seek God and his presence, seek our dreams, seek our desires. We test our desires against his Word and look for guidance. But when it comes to wisdom with finances, wondering when the spark plugs should be changed, replacing carpets, or recovering from surgery, and when we can get to the store to buy groceries….
I wish all of this wasn’t so hard. I wish that families stayed in the same places, rejection wasn’t an issue, and that we could more easily hold on to an eternal perspective. But our humanity gets in the way… our mold, our dust, and that gripping tightness in the chest. We walk, as with feet slugging through thick, deep mud. We can’t always see the sun. We have the promises that shield our faces and pull us up out of the mire, declaring a hope and a future, and that we will walk in high places with a shield and salvation.
“I took you from the ends of the earth,
from its farthest corners I called you.
I said, ‘You are my servant’;
I have chosen you and have not rejected you.
So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
We cling to this, brushing off the falling ashes, walking through the thunder, and seeking shelter. If our God is with us, we do not fail. When God completes us, we are closer to his heart; and we cannot be in any better place.
It’s very likely that along the way we will be idiotic, silly, and forgetful. We will literally fall, twist our ankles, club ourselves in the head with the car door because the carport is rusted and there’s a waterfall right outside the passenger side... we will cry out when our children refuse to obey, and hoard chocolate bars in a hidden cupboard. We will fail to maintain perfection on this earth, to be on time, to budget correctly, and to find the good in others. And what do we do then?
“The poor and needy search for water, but there is none; their tongues are parched with thirst. But I the Lord will answer them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them. I will make rivers flow on barren heights, and springs within the valleys. I will turn the desert into pools of water, and the parched ground into springs. I will put in the desert the cedar and the acacia, the myrtle and the olive. I will set pines in the wasteland, the fir and the cypress together, so that people may see and know, may consider and understand, that the hand of the Lord has done this, that the Holy One of Israel has created it.”
“I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth.”
We have to stick with Him, because he’s got this. We have to trust him to forgive our inner failures, we have to give up our stubbornness, and we have to choose to leave behind My Way Of Doing It. And he will work out the kinks, even if it hurts a little, even if we thought they were okay to have around.
There are many ways to tell a story, and there are many types of stories to be told. Legend and autobiography, tragedy, comedy, and the popular hero tale are an industry that encompass literature, art, film, and our children’s toy shelves. In the hero plot, the protagonist must face a challenge or series of obstacles in order to change his destiny. The hero usually starts off as a character forced into making a decision. Then the stakes are raised. Quite often there is a great loss for the hero; Spider Man was only Peter Parker until his Uncle Ben was killed; Batman watched his parents suffer and die at the hands of a thief; Elizabeth Bennet didn’t give a rip for Darcy until her sister ran off; Katniss took her sister’s place in a battle to the death. Even Jesus, in a real-life example, had to allow his work to be completed: “Jesus commanded Peter, ‘Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?’”
So what do we expect?
Personally I do not consider myself a hero. I was proud of myself for being able to do 35 girlie pushups the other day; I got one basket away from being caught up on the laundry. Hoo haa. This is not really exciting. But my story, and your story, are important. You are your own protagonist. What is your challenge, your series of obstacles?
What will you lose?
And can you overcome?
The reward is much greater when the loss has a noble purpose.
On this blue planet we are drifting closer to eternity every moment, so don’t let the moments go to waste.
“In You, O Lord, I have taken refuge;
Let me never be ashamed;
In Your righteousness deliver me.
Incline Your ear to me, rescue me quickly;
Be to me a rock of strength,
A stronghold to save me.
For You are my rock and my fortress;
For Your name’s sake You will lead me and guide me…
For You are my strength.
Into Your hand I commit my spirit;
You have ransomed me, O Lord, God of truth...
I trust in the Lord.
I will rejoice and be glad in Your lovingkindness,
Because You have seen my affliction;
You have known the troubles of my soul,
And You have not given me over into the hand of the enemy;
You have set my feet in a large place.”
I battle with myself over a lot of shortcomings. I contemplate contentment and consider the falling stars and I see my incapacity to react in the right way so often. My toddler gets so frustrated at the littlest upset when she attempts to try something -- linking together toy trains, putting on her shoes, eating broccoli with her fork; she screams, her face turns red, she sometimes throws her fork or knocks over the project at hand. And am I like that? When I don’t get my way, when my schedule is disrupted, when I feel like I’m failing? Sometimes yes.
But we don’t look back. We don’t throw ourselves onto our beds and give up. Not today, anyway. Into his hands we commit; we commit to letting ourselves be molded, letting our stories be shaped, letting our pathways be wrought as they may. Maybe the pathway is financial success or new houses or shiny cars or full cupboards or smiling hugs from friends. Maybe there is loss or upset expectations, but we don’t fear it, and we kick the spiders out of the way. Maybe this is read in a small room or on a small screen, but He has set your feet in a large place. It’s wide open, soft green grasses, with large, leafy trees in the distance; small yellow flowers flutter around your feet in the soft breeze, while two birds soar overhead, the sunshine beaming down on your shoulders. You are chosen; you are strong; you are in the hands of a very capable Author.
But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. (1 Corinthians 1:9)
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