It’s Worth It

I’m not an athletic person. I don’t really like sports or physical activities as a form of recreation. But I do love to hike. Growing up, hiking wasn’t something my family did. But I discovered as an adult that I really enjoy being among nature in this way–as long as I don’t encounter any wildlife. I’ll take the flora, but none of the fauna.

Recently, the kids and I took a getaway to Santa Barbara, Calif. It’s not too far from our home, but it’s just far enough to feel like a new place. We live more inland and Santa Barbara is a beautiful combination of coastland and mountains. It was an ideal place to go hiking.

Our first day there, we took on a pretty easy hike. It didn’t require too much climbing or rough terrain. It ended at a beautiful little stream. The kids loved every moment of it. I remember taking it all in and thanking God for His beautiful creation and the joy of seeing my kids happy.

The next day, we took on a much more difficult hike. But that wasn’t the plan on the outset. We woke up and had the sack breakfast provided by the motel where we were staying. I hadn’t really made plans for that day–just to bump around the room until check out and maybe a quick stop by the beach on our way out of town. But the kids quickly grew bored of the motel room. (There’s only so much “exploring” you can do in a one-room motel room and the appeal of cable TV soon wears off when you can’t find anything to watch on hundreds of channels.) So we decided to check out early and go on another hike. I chose one that was listed as “moderate.” It was supposed to be a hike to waterfalls. It sounded so refreshing and beautiful–right up our alley.

When we arrived, we quickly realized how popular this spot was. We could not find parking. We ended up parking at the bottom of a decent sized hill. Filled with enthusiasm and a can-do attitude, we hopped out of the car to make our way to the trail. Once we arrived at what we thought was the beginning of the trail, we realized we had to hike another .8 miles, uphill, just to get to where our chosen trail began. Along the way, I kept asking people, “Is this the way to 7 Falls?” They all assured me we were on the right path. But I was so confused why it was taking so long just to get to the start of the trail. This wasn’t supposed to be this hard.

Eventually, we found our way to the right trail. We followed it and found ourselves at a barely-flowing stream. Once again, I asked fellow travelers if we were on the right path. They assured me that we had indeed found the 7 Falls, but due to a dry winter, there wasn’t much more than a trickle of water. As you can imagine, we were quite disappointed. But they encouraged us to head up another nearby trail to get to Inspiration Point.

After some debate among ourselves, we decided to take on the hike to Inspiration Point. After all, it promised panoramic views of Santa Barbara, all the way to the coast. As we started off, I could already tell this was going to be harder than I had planned or even wanted. Don’t forget, we had already hiked nearly a mile, mostly uphill, at this point. But we journeyed on. At one point, I decided I had had enough. This wasn’t fun anymore, it was painful and I wanted to turn back. But the kids wanted to continue. So I went a little farther.

Soon we encountered fellow hikers who were heading back down. So I asked them, “Is it much farther?” I’m sure they could see my exhaustion and readiness to give up. So they kindly encouraged me, “Well, it is a bit farther. But it’s totally worth it!” Spurred by their encouragement, we continued on, stopping every few yards to catch my breath and rest my weary legs. It seemed like every time I was ready to throw in the towel, we would encounter hikers on the return down the mountain. Each time I asked, “Is it much farther?” And each time they assured me it would be worth it. And every now and then, we would catch a glimpse of the ocean, a tease of the grander view that awaited us.

Eventually we made it to the top. And just like the hikers who came before us said, it was totally worth it. The view was breathtaking. I stood at Inspiration Point, in awe of what we had just accomplished. Once again, I took a moment to worship the God who was on display in the beauty of His creation.

As we headed back down, we encountered people on their way up. They stopped us to ask the same thing I had wondered on my way up, “How much farther?” I was able to tell them, just as I had been told, “Don’t give up. It’s a bit farther. But it’s totally worth it.”

By the time we made it back to the car, our bodies were sore. But I felt such a sense of accomplishment. I hadn’t given up. I hadn’t given in to the voice in my head that said this was too hard or that it wouldn’t be worth it. For the next few days, I walked around with sore muscles, but each wince of pain was eased by a sense of pride that I hadn’t given up.

On our hike, Journey was a constant motivator. He not only encouraged us to persevere (one of our family mottos). But he was seeing how God was using this hike as an object lesson for us. “Life,” as explained by my 11 year-old, “is like this hike. There are obstacles and challenges. But you can’t give up. And God gives us people along the way to help us.”

As he shared what God was showing him through this hike, I could see the parallels to my journey through healing from divorce. From the confusion and disappointments on the onset that things aren’t as easy or straightforward as expected. To the way God not only provides people to help as I climb my mountain, but also gives glimpses of where He’s taking me.

It’s been an uphill climb to healing for me. There have been moments I’ve wanted to give up because the pain just seemed too much and I couldn’t see why it was worth it. But along the way, there have been people who have encouraged me and told me the work is worth it. And every now and then I turn a corner and catch a glimpse of the view that awaits. Just like we caught sight of the ocean from time-to-time, there are moments in the healing journey where I get a peek at how the restoration in my life is coming together.

I feel like I’m still on my path to healing. But I know that once I’ve reached the pinnacle, God will be able to use me to encourage the next weary traveler. I will know the struggle and the pain. But I will also know the triumph of not giving up. So I will be able to tell the next person to journey on because it’s worth it in the end.

Best Laid Plans

Most of us are familiar with Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” It’s printed on coffee mugs, T-shirts, and inspirational journals. I’ve even written on it in this blog. Isn’t it such a comforting verse? But sometimes, I think we miss the point.

As I’ve shared before, this verse is part of a letter from the prophet Jeremiah to the Babylonian exiles. The exiles had been carted off to Babylon, all the while thinking they would be returning home soon. They were making their plans, much like we all did when 2020 began. Like many of you, I made goals and plans for this year. And also like many of you, a global pandemic, violent protests, earthquakes and fires were not part of that plan.

The exiles felt as I’m sure we’ve all felt: “This isn’t going to last. We’ll be back to our lives in no time.” But this letter from Jeremiah arrests them of the idea of a quick return to normal. I don’t know about you, but I’m starting to give up on the idea of “normal.”

It’s hard to give up the plans we’ve made. I’ve seen many of my dreams, plans, and expectations go unfulfilled. It’s really disappointing. I’m sure the exiles felt that same disappointment in learning they weren’t returning home for 70 years (Jeremiah 29:10).

Isn’t it funny how when we normally hear Jeremiah 29:11, it’s rarely in the context of disappointed expectations? But that’s exactly where it fits. You see, the comfort in this verse is not in the promise of good things, even though that is very comforting. The comfort is in the promise that even when our lives aren’t going according to plan, God has plans for us that are even better than anything we can imagine.

Letting go of our plans and expectations is never easy. But we can take comfort knowing that even when our plans go awry, God’s plans for us are right on schedule, no matter how it looks.

Broken Pieces or a Masterpiece

When I was in the fourth grade, my class created a large mosaic mural of the Nativity. We used scraps of colorful paper that my teacher, Ms. Peterson, had painstakingly cut up. I remember, while working on it, not knowing what we were creating. We were just instructed to paste our scraps here or there. But as the project progressed over the weeks, we began to see the picture that was being formed. Suddenly those bits of paper became a masterful work of art. It wasn’t until we took a few steps back to see the whole thing that we could see what was happening.

Traditionally, mosaics are made from bits of regular and irregular pieces of glass, stone, tile, etc. Individually, these pieces don’t create much beauty. But in an expert’s hands, a magnificent masterpiece can be created.

Looking at the broken and misshapen pieces of my own life, and I’m sure yours too, it can be difficult to envision anything beautiful coming out of it. Just like the pieces used in a mosaic, in the wrong hands, these pieces can be, at best, discarded trash, and at worst, jagged shards that can cause harm. But in the right hands, they can be fitted together into something beautiful.

These broken pieces are being expertly and lovingly placed into the beautiful mosaic God is creating in my life. But I have to remember that I’m not the center of the artwork, Jesus is. Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (ESV, emphasis added).

Forgetting whose image I am being conformed into (Romans 8:29) makes it easy to become disappointed with what I see being created. Isaiah 45:9 says, “Woe to him who strives with him who formed him, a pot among earthen pots! Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’ or ‘Your work has no handles’?” (ESV).

Like my fourth-grade self, I can’t always see the full picture of what God is accomplishing in my life. I can become so focused on the one little section that looks like a mess of mismatched pieces. But I’m so thankful that the Master Artist knows the vision and sees where each piece fits.

Quieting the Noise

I am an introvert and a homebody by nature. So when the pandemic began and we were all put under stay-at-home orders, it was like a dream come true: You mean, the government is telling me to stay away from other people and I get to be home all day without anyone thinking it’s weird?!

But as the stay-at-home order was extended, I found myself battling loneliness. This is not really an emotion I’ve struggled with in the past. Sure, I’ve had my moments, as we all do. But this time has been different. And as you may recall from a previous post, we had an uninvited guest in our home. Suddenly, my place of security was not only lonely, but it felt unsafe.

When I first started living by myself, I struggled a lot with fear when I was home alone. I would practically barricade myself in my room, not leaving it until morning.  The pandemic and mouse sent me back to that very bad place.

A quiet house became scary to me. So I became pretty good at avoiding the quiet. I would constantly have some distraction going, whether it was music or TV. And if I wanted to paint a “spiritual” face on it, I’d listen to a Bible teaching. But all of it was to avoid the quiet.

But what if this loneliness isn’t a curse, but a call from God to my heart? What if being in a place of isolation isn’t a punishment, but an opportunity to remember where true comfort is found? Second Corinthians 1:3 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort” (ESV).

Paul, speaking about the hardships he and Timothy faced said, “For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received a sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:8-9 ESV). I won’t be so dramatic as to say I “despaired of life itself.” But there have been times when I’ve wondered how I would make it through the day. I love how Paul says that they were put in their predicament so that they could learn to rely on God. In the same way, I choose to believe that God has allowed this time of being set apart for a greater purpose.

So I’m learning not to avoid the silence. I’m learning to quiet the distractions so that I can hear what the Holy Spirit wants to speak to my heart during this season. This mean less TV and an extended break from social media. It means, being comfortable enough to sit quietly, without background noise, and wait for God to come visit with me. It also means more time digging into the Word.

It’s still a little scary to have so much quiet time on my hands. But I’m hopeful that this is a season of preparation for whatever God has for me next.

Undivided Devotion

I recently came to the realization that I am single. After nearly 18 years of marriage, this was not a reality that was easy to accept. It’s no wonder it took me almost a year after my divorce to identify as a single woman. After all, I was 19 years old when I went on my first date with my former husband. And 41 when the divorce was finalized. Even though I knew I was unmarried, in my heart and mind I still felt as if I were married.

The significance of the revelation isn’t a desire to “get out there” or anything like that. The significance comes in reading 1 Corinthians 7:

I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldy things, how to please his wife, and his interest is divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldy things, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord (vs. 32-35).

Even though I no longer have a husband to please, my devotion to the Lord was still divided. It was divided out of a 20-year habit. It was also divided as I grieved not only the loss of my marriage but the desire to be married. But I’m coming to realize that, for the first time in more than 20 years, my focus and attention can be totally on the Father.

This epiphany didn’t come with a magical transformation that caused big changes to happen overnight. It will be a process. But I’m learning to embrace this season of singleness, not as a consolation prize but as an opportunity to really seek after God.

I don’t know what the future holds or how long I will be in this season. But I am choosing to live to the fullest and accept all the blessings and challenges of singleness. I’m choosing to reorient my heart and be intentional about keeping God first.

“And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,'” Matthew 22:37.

But It Still Hurts: The ongoing struggle to forgive

Has this ever happened to you? You bump into something and bruise your arm or leg. It smarts for a minute or two. But after a while, the pain subside and you move on. But then you bump that same spot again, and suddenly the pain of the original injury comes flooding back. You realize that there’s still a tender bruise there. That’s been my process of forgiveness. I’ve tried to be quick to forgive, not wanting bitterness to take root (Hebrews 12:15). But sometimes a situation will come up, unexpectedly, that will renew the pain and I find myself in need of forgiving all over again.

“Everyone thinks forgiveness is a lovely idea until he has something to forgive.”
– C.S. Lewis

Keeping my heart free from unforgiveness hasn’t been easy.  C.S. Lewis said it best in his book Mere Christianity, “Everyone thinks forgiveness is a lovely idea until he has something to forgive.”

I’m reminded of a time when Journey hurt Faith. As I was mediating between them I encouraged Faith to forgive her brother. Her response was so innocent and real: “But it still hurts!” Years later, as I think back on that incident, I know exactly how she felt. How do you forgive when you still feel pain?

I think God must have had a similar dilemma. Over and over, from that first moment when Adam and Eve took a bite of the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Genesis 3), mankind has rejected God in one form or another. Yet even in the pain of rejection, He made a plan, through Jesus, to reconcile us to Himself: “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 ESV).

I’m learning that walking in forgiveness isn’t pretending like the offense never happened or the pain isn’t real. I’ve found that it’s important for me to process through the emotions of the hurt. And as good as it feels to vent to my friends and family, I have found no better listening ear than my Heavenly Father. I can be ugly honest with God. I can tell Him that I’m hurt or angry or some combination of the two. I can tell Him that I’m having difficulty forgiving. Then I can ask Him to heal me and help me forgive by the power of the Holy Spirit. And He always helps me. It’s not always instantaneous. Sometimes it takes crying out to Him several times. But I’ve also learned that forgiveness isn’t an emotion, it’s a choice. It’s not a one-time event. But an ongoing, daily–sometimes minute-by-minute–decision to let go of my desire for retribution.

I’m hopeful that one day soon those tender spots in my heart will heal. And the enemy of my soul will no longer have a bruise to poke. But until that day, I will continue to cry out to God to help me forgive as He has forgiven me (Ephesians 4:32).

Seeing God More Clearly

Recently, I was looking through pictures from the past three years. And I could see in these pictures when pain and suffering came to visit us. I saw pictures from our family’s trip to Chicago. On the surface, they looked like pictures from a fun family vacation. But then I remembered we had gone to Chicago for the funeral of a beloved aunt. Then I saw a picture of me with my mom and dad taken less than ten days later. Another beautiful family shot, except we were standing graveside for the burial another well-loved aunt. Then there was the picture of Journey smiling, sitting in an ER bed with swollen lips, the result of an unexplained allergic reaction–just another incident in a string of illnesses and strange symptoms he experienced that year. And so I chronicled the beginning of our season of suffering. Things got progressively worse. There were more deaths in the family, more illnesses and the most painful blow of all–a marriage coming apart.

It was strange looking back at these pictures and reflecting on where I am today compared to then. Somehow God seems nearer now than He did then, despite the fact that the suffering, at least on paper, hasn’t lessened. I have more peace, joy and hope in my life than I had before all of this began.

How is it possible that I can see God more clearly in the suffering than I did in the pleasantness of life? The enemy of our souls designs suffering to pull us away from God. He uses it to try to convince us that God is not good and that He doesn’t have good intentions toward us. His goal has been and continues to be to “steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10). But therein lies the beauty and the contradiction of suffering. If we allow it, we will experience a nearness of God we couldn’t know otherwise. Our Father is so present during our trials. Isaiah 43:2 says, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you” (ESV).

I have learned that God is not some far-off, distant God. He’s the Father who is orchestrating things to accomplish His good purpose for my life (Genesis 50:20). He’s the Son weeping with me at the tomb (John 11:33-35). And He’s the Spirit making intercession for me with groanings too deep for words (Romans 8:26).

Hope and a Good Future

“‘I say this because I know what I have planned for you,’ says the Lord. ‘I have good plans for you. I don’t plan to hurt you. I plan to give you hope and a good future‘” (Jeremiah 29:11 ICB, emphasis mine).

My son handed me a 3″ x 5″ card with the above words written in my own handwriting. I didn’t even remember writing it. But there it was. At the time, I had been asking God for a guiding theme for our family in 2019. Our church was planning “New Beginnings” as a theme for the new year. And I so wanted that to be for us too. It sounded so nice–it sounded exactly like what I needed. But I knew in my heart God had something different in mind for us. So when Journey casually handed me this card, with this verse in an obscure translation, I didn’t just brush it off…well, I almost did.

For me, Jeremiah 29:11 was an overused verse. I categorized it under  my “cliche verses” file, along with Philippians 4:13. You know, the verses that are printed on coffee mugs and T-shirts. And because it is so often used, I tended to discount its truth, as if somehow its popularity made it less true. But God’s word is true no matter how many farmhouse-style signs are printed with it. So after I got over my snobbery, I allowed God to begin to speak to me the truth of this verse.

In its context, it’s part of a letter the prophet Jeremiah sent to the Babylonian exiles. In this letter, he’s basically giving them some less than thrilling news and some instructions:

“This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says to all the captives he has exiled to Babylon from Jerusalem: ‘Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce. Marry and have children. Then find spouses for them so that you may have many grandchildren. Multiply! Do not dwindle away! And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.’ This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says: ‘Do not let your prophets and fortunetellers who are with you in the land of Babylon trick you. Do not listen to their dreams, because they are telling lies in my name. I have not sent them,’ says the Lord. This is what the Lord says: ‘You will be in Babylon for seventy years'” (Jeremiah 29:4-10a NLT).

The exiles believed that their time in Babylon was going to be short. They thought they would be returning home soon. But this letter from Jeremiah breaks the news that they would be there for 70 years, so they might as well unpack and get to living. I can imagine how disappointed they felt. I’ve been there. It’s that moment when you realize there’s no quick fix to the mess you’re in, no “special prayer” to make it all go away. And God surely knows too and that’s where we get to this beautiful promise of a future and a hope:

“‘But then I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and I will bring you home again. For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. ‘They are plans for good and not disaster, to give you a future and a hope'” (Jeremiah 29:10b-11 NLT).

During the past year and a half, I’ve felt like an exile. I’m in a place I never intended to be–living in a “land” that feels foreign and scary. But I’ve had to make my home here and allow myself to grow. It can be dark and frightening here. But God has promised “hope and a good future.” How exciting and reassuring is that?!

So I embrace Jeremiah 29:11 as a promise and a guiding theme for my family this year. As we move into and through 2019, this promise will lead us. When fear and doubt creep in, as they will, we can point back to the promise of “hope and a good future.” And we can remind ourselves that God is a promise keeper and that His word does not return to him void (Isaiah 55:11).

The Victorious Life

Happy New Year! I hope your year is off to a prosperous beginning.

As a point of personal reflection, I’ve been reading through my personal journal from the last year. It’s been both encouraging and challenging to review the things God taught me in 2018.

The following is an entry I made last Good Friday (March 30, 2018). I decided to publish it here because I believe it best encapsulates what God taught me in 2018:

What does a victorious life in Christ look like? Is victory in Christ a life without trials and challenges? Is it a life where everything always works out as planned or hoped for?

That’s what I wish it looked like…all of my troubles and challenges all tied up neatly in a pretty bow. No pain, no discouragement. But that’s not victory in Christ. That’s a fairy tale. John 16:33 says, “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, I have overcome the world.”

I’ve been looking at “victory in Christ” all wrong. I’ve somehow bought into the lie that because my situation hasn’t resolved itself the way I’d like, I’m not experiencing victory.

The victorious life is not a life absent of trouble. It’s one that enables me to walk forward in the challenges. It’s one that gives me crazy, ridiculous joy and peace in midst of the most heart-wrenching circumstances.

This is the victorious life: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned and the flame shall not consume you” (Isaiah 43:2-3). The victorious life is one where God is with me in all of my troubles, carrying me and not allowing them to overtake me.

I think about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the furnace. They still had to go through it. God could have prevented them from even being put in the furnace. But He had a greater victory in mind. He allowed them to walk through it, but He kept them and walked with them. As a result, King Nebuchadnezzar worshiped the one, true God (Daniel 3).

God could rescue me from my troubles. He could have kept me from going through any of this. But He has a greater victory planned. He is walking with me through this. And others will worship the one, true God when they see His hand keeping me in the midst of the flame.

Victory in Christ is not the absence of trouble, it’s the presence of God in the midst of it.

Happy Thanksgiving

Have you noticed how difficult it is to remain thankful when things aren’t quite going according to plan? Or is that just me?! I often find myself telling my daughter to find something to be thankful for no matter what, after all, 1 Thessalonians 5:18 NLT says, “Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.”
But when the rubber meets the road, I’m not always very good at following my own advice. So what better time than Thanksgiving to take a moment to be thankful? So here are some of the things for which I’m grateful:
  • God’s presence
  • Joy
  • The refining process (not always fun, but definitely worth it in the end)
  • God’s protection of my kids’ hearts
  • His protection of my heart
  • God’s love shown to me through those He’s sent to support and encourage me
  • Peace
  • Strength
  • Comfort
  • God’s direction
I’m sure if I sat here for a while longer, I could continue to find things for which to be thankful. But just taking these few moments to be grateful has refocused my heart and helped me to be ready to enjoy a festive Thanksgiving with my wonderful family.
Happy Thanksgiving!

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