A Strengthening Struggle

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I’m in a season of blog starting. I start them and save them and kind of forget about them.  I think it is because I want so desperately to be encouraging and sometimes I’m just not.  Sometime I’m just an all out mess.

And my blogs can reflect that mess quite well.

And I have these voices in my head and outside of my head that keep telling me that I should be in a better place by now.  That maybe not sharing the struggle is best.

There are many, many good things in my life right now.  Many.  But there are also many, many challenges.

There just are.

Nothing unusual.  Nothing extraordinary.  Nothing crazy awful.

Really in the grand scheme of things my life is pretty good.

But daily I must grab my thoughts and say, “Thank you Lord for this day.  Thank you Lord for the tremendous blessings you graciously give just because You love me.  And I love You too!”

And that is what I want to focus on, but I’m struggling to find the words to share.

I shared about my concerns about health issues.  They are real.  And sometimes lately they have kept me up at night.  All the “what ifs” are terrifying to me.  But even without the “additional tests” thing, there are always “what ifs”…always.

I wish I could just let things go…place things in God’s hands and not worry.

I will say though that God has been so very, very kind to me this past week.  Two snow days, a half day of school and then two teacher workdays.  Blessed relief from some of the stress of work and the joy of getting things accomplished and planned and prepared for, both at work and at home.  That should provide a few more minutes of restful sleep.

That is a beautiful example of how God provides for me even in all my whirling dervish of anxiousness. He seems to understand my stuff…my constant battle with capturing anxious thoughts.  And when I say constant…I really mean it.

I have made a two part plan to peace.

  1. Pray for strength to take thoughts captive.
  2. Hide scripture in my heart so my life is a reflection of His grace, mercy, faithfulness, and forgiveness.

I feel like a broken record.  Pray! Pray! Pray!  And yet, I put my head on my pillow each night realizing I barely breathed a prayer to my Father.

I talked about Him, but not to Him.

I know prayer is the provider of peace I long for.  Why in the world do I not pray more?

When I was walking the beginning of this single parent path, that peace was so amazing…just really awe-inspiring.  There were days I didn’t understand how I could feel it so tangibly.  Please know that it wasn’t that I didn’t weep buckets at any given moment during any given day, but even during those very damp moments I knew His peace.

I have my sobby seconds now, but I’m trying not to fall into my pit of sorrow again.  I’m trying to move forward and see…really see the many, many blessings God continues to lavish on me.  And to thank Him daily.

Part two.  Hiding scripture in my heart…when I get God’s word in my head it seems to seep down into my heart.  And before I know it, my heart beats with the rhythm of His word.  My perspective changes and I can see beauty where before all I saw was burdens. My anxious thoughts are calmed and quieted as He reminds me that He is powerful, strong, and in control.  Things might feel like they are spinning hopelessly either in circles or out of control (or a little bit of both), but truly He has a plan in the midst of what feels like chaos.  His word whispers peace in my ear and stops the voices in my head.  Those words of fear and worry are drowned out by His words of hope and faith.

I have a lot to be thankful for…a lot to hope for (even if right now I’m just hoping for good news on Tuesday).

So maybe I’m not in such a bad place…maybe the struggle is strengthening me.

And maybe having some challenges doesn’t negate a good life…a good life always has some bit of difficulty.

The secret seems to be to find some wonderful in the worries, some awesome in the afflictions, some pleasant moments in the problems, some inspiration in the inconveniences, and just some plain ole blessings in the burdens.

Now I have to figure out how to open my eyes wide enough to see all the ways God is reaching in to my day with His love and peace.

Tomorrow is Monday.  Seems like a good day to start my plan!

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I Believe

IMG_2390The other night I began another journal.  This one is just for scripture.  Words I want hidden in my heart and impressed on my mind.

The first scripture I wrote in there was Isaiah 43:1-2,4,7

Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.  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…Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you…everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.

I love those words, but honestly at the time I wondered why God led me to them.  I didn’t feel like I was facing fear or walking through anymore fire than usually.  There are always a few burning coals at my feet, but I’m a bit of a ninja when it comes to walking on them.

Then the next day I got a call from the doctor’s office.  Have to go for additional tests. This is the second set of additional tests I’ve had.  The first set was for one thing…this is for another.  And honestly, the call kind of rocked my world.  Again.

It is a fear of mine (one of a few) that I will get sick and not be able to provide for my family…not be able to take care of my children.  Lose my job.  My house.  My life.  Sometimes it feels a bit irrational…well, a lot irrational.

But today, it feels a little too real for my tastes.  A little too in my face.  It still might be irrational.  It’s just additional tests.  Tests don’t always mean bad things.

Being a teacher, I know that giving a test is a lot easier than taking a test.  There is no dread with giving, but a fair amount with taking.

I know that the likelihood of my being seriously ill is not huge…well, maybe I shouldn’t say that.  I have no idea.   I know that I haven’t been the most diligent in caring for myself for the last few years.  Little exercise. Little sleep. Lotta stress.  And a few too many Coca-Colas.

I’m trying to get healthy.  I’ve stopped soda.  I’ve cut down sugar.  The sugar isn’t hard because I don’t have a sweet-tooth.  I have a salt and grease tooth.  Give me a 5-Guys burger and fries and I’m a very happy camper.  Add a Coke and I’m pretty much in heaven.  But the dessert afterwards…ehhhh, I can take it or leave it.

My kids tease me that if I was a super hero I’d be “Saltina” – I guess my nemesis would have to be giant slugs.  (Well, I do have teenagers…)

Anywho, I digress.  Getting healthy.  Need to do it.

The whole fear thing.

I found a journal a few days ago that had an entry from a while back.  I was expressing my fear of never being loved or being able to trust again.  God has shown me that that isn’t true.  He lavishes love on me through others often.  And trust?  God continually shows me that I can trust Him.  Learning to trust again by trusting Him. That’s the way I can start.

Do I trust God with my health?  He’s shown me often that I can trust Him with so much, why not this?

The beauty of Isaiah 43 is

Who He says I am – His.  Called by His name.  Created for His glory.  Precious in His eyes.  Honored.  Loved.

Where He says I am – with Him

What He says will happen – I will not be overwhelmed.  I will not be burned.  I will not be consumed.

I think of how I feel about my children…selfish, flawed, and tired me.  I love them completely.  I would do anything for them.  And God?  Selfless, perfect, ever diligent God.  He loves me completely – lavishly.  He would do anything for me.  But only the best anything.

Ask and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.  Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent?  If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!  Matthew 7:7-11

Maybe this is just the kick in my rear that is going to make me take better care of myself.  Maybe this is the “Girly, do you truly trust me with everything?” thing.                     Maybe this is the “watch me walk you through it” thing.

I can’t say that I’m still not heading into all this with great trepidation, but I do trust.  It might be a trembling trust, but it is trust nonetheless.

Again I’m like that father in Mark 9, “I believe, help my unbelief!”

I love that interchange between the father and Jesus.  The father says, “But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”  Jesus responds, “If you can! All things are possible for one who believes.”  Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”

It sounds funny but the exclamation points jump out at me!  I hear Jesus saying, “If you can!?!?”  Not in an unkind way, but rather an encouraging way.  It’s as if He is saying to this devastated father, “Dear one, if you can!  There is no “if” when it comes to my ability.  There is no “if” when it comes to my power.  It is all possible for one who believes.   Believe.”

So what do I believe?  I believe that God is able.  I believe that God will never leave me.  I believe that I can trust Him.  I believe.

So bring on stupid additional tests.  Bring on whatever.

He and I…we got this.

Taking 4 Steps Back

IMG_3911Once upon a time…

There was a little girl who dreamed of being married and raising beautiful little children who would love the Lord and each other.  There wasn’t a white picket fence, but there was a big oak tree with a tire swing, a creek with tadpoles, a kitchen counter with a fresh loaf of homemade bread, and a mommy and daddy who loved each other with abandon.

Not surprisingly, that little girl was me.

It seemed for a very long time that things were headed that way…I’d jumped into the chariot, married Prince Charming, and started making beautiful babies.  The house was full – joyfully chaotic and plentiful in love.

But underneath the calm beauty of a life built together, there were secrets and hurtful things.  Sin was stealing in to destroy and devastate.

After almost 18 years of family building, it became a marriage collapse.

It was easy to assume that this marriage collapse would spell the end of this precious family.

But because God can always make beauty from ashes, we would survive…me and my little band of beauties.

We wobbled, we swayed, but we didn’t fall.  In fact, in many ways we became stronger – closer and more determined to thrive, not just survive.

Picking up the pieces after divorce is no easy task.  In fact, it’s exhausting, but the pieces, with God’s help, do fit back together.  The picture isn’t the same, but it can still be beautiful.  It can still be joyful.

My picture hasn’t fallen back into place easily.  It’s taking time.  It’s taking a bunch of perseverance and patience…things I often don’t feel I have near enough of.

There are days I still mourn my “once upon a time no more”.  There are days I still feel a deep pain in my chest when I ponder what I’ve lost.

But maybe the key is not to focus on what I’ve lost, but to realize what I have gained…been blessed with…have.

And again God brings me back to Whose I am…who I am.

It’s so easy to forget in the busyness of the day…I just feel so much without thinking.

I feel so overwhelmed.  I feel so impatient.  I feel so much pressure.  I feel such failure.  I feel such hopelessness at times.

What.  In.  The.  World????

Hopeless.

How did I get here?

I honestly don’t know…one small step after another I guess.

One step toward thinking I can handle it all.

One step away from the strength of the Lord and into the illusion of my own strength.

One step away from moments of peace and rest and into the hurried and overwhelmed moments of a day without boundaries.

One step away from prayer and into thinking I should be able to do this.

One step away from the Word and into my own wisdom, my own knowledge, my own perspective.

Taking those steps over and over again…those have gotten me here.

To this place of stress and anxious thoughts and overwhelming emotions.

How do I get back to the start…to the better place?

One step at a time…

Step one…on my knees.  Prayer is my lifeline.

Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.  Romans 12:12

 Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knowns what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.  And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.  Romans 8:26-28

Step two…dive into the Word.  Knowing Him through His word gives me such abiding hope, often a new perspective, and the wisdom I need so desperately to lead my little band.

Behold you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.  Psalm 50:6

If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.  John 8:31-32

Sanctify them in the truth; your word is the truth.  As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.  And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.  John 17:17

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.  2 Timothy 3:16

Step three… sit down!!  Chill…relax…rest.  Rest in the knowledge that I am His daughter.  Rest in the knowledge that He has my life in the palm of His hand.  Rest in the knowledge that He will take care of me and my children.  Rest in the knowledge that He loves me.

For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on Spirit is life and peace.  Romans 8:6

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.  Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD God is an everlasting rock.  Isaiah 26:3-4

Step four…gratitude.  I cannot have a good attitude without gratitude.  If I would but take a moment and think about the good things…the precious people and massive number of blessings God has lavished on me…I’d see that it is quite easy to count my blessings.  But even if God had not graciously blessed me with people and things and opportunities and provision, He has blessed me with Christ…with grace and mercy, with the joy of the Lord, with salvation, with life, with hope, with peace, with eternity.  How can my lips not praise and thank Him!

Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.  Psalm 118:1

Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wonderous works to the children of man!  Psalm 107:8

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. Colossians 2:6-7  

 I know there are more steps to take…but that will get me started moving forward with grace and peace.

Lord, thank you so much that you love me regardless of my attitude or actions.  Lord, thank you that I know that you will take care of me and my children.  Forgive me for so often trying to take control of my life.  Forgive me for not resting in the knowledge that I can trust you.  Thank you Father that you are faithful and kind even in the face of my unfaithfulness.  I am in awe of you!  In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Up to My…Head

IMG_1614When I started this blog I wanted to offer hope with a dash of humor thrown in for good measure.  I can, at times, be a little funny.  My amusing side has been slipping a bit lately, and I’d like to find that voice again.

As I begin this new year, I’m thinking I want to make a slight change in my perspective…in my way of doing things and thinking about things.  Maybe I shouldn’t say a slight change…a complete 180 might be more like it.

Joy has been a bit illusive this past year.  Hard to grasp for me.

Peace that passes understanding?  Haven’t had it.  I’ve chosen anxious thoughts and ungratefulness.

It has been a bit of a miserable time for me (and my kids, unfortunately).

I don’t think that my life has been harder than most, or that I’ve been called to do something overly extreme in difficulty.  My life is just more challenging and exhausting than I  want.

My vision for my life was different. And sometimes the farther I get from the vision, the more I struggle to accept where I am.

It has been easy to focus on the stress of my circumstances, rather than anything positive.

So what are my circumstances, really?  That seems like a good place to start when I’m trying to figure out how I should approach life.  I’m hoping for some perspective on why I’m doing what I’m doing, living how I’m living, and thinking the way I’m thinking.  And maybe if I put it all in front of me in black and white I’ll see something differently.

Would you like to think through this with me?

What are the things that you are dealing with right now?  Not your emotions, but your circumstances. What does your life look like each day?

I have to remind myself as I go through analyzing my life that God is not at all surprised by my circumstances (or emotions).  They are the tools that God is going to use in my life to bring me good and Him glory.  And I’m confident that I will be stronger for the challenges.

The storms of life.

I once heard a pastor say that we are either heading into a storm, right in the middle of it, or drying off from it. When I first heard this I thought it was a rather dismal look at life, there have to be other times….don’t there?

Where are we now?

  • Hanging on for dear life in the hurricane.
  • Rocking on the waves but getting our sea legs
  • Working on storm clean-up – everything’s a little damp and musty, but thankful to be back on dry land
  • Floating in calm waters – an occasional wave swamps your boat but you are doing just fine
  • Sunning on the beach

In some ways I’m in clean up mode, but in others I think I’m still rocking a little bit on the waves.

Wherever I find myself (any given day), how do I respond to where I am…where God has me?

In all honesty, my responses have been mostly negative – BUT I’m determined to change that this year.

Part of the problem is that I tend to look at all my circumstances as only challenges rather than just the place God has me…a place God can still bless me.  That inclines me to respond mostly negatively to them.

Being a single working mom is challenging at times, but it is the place God has me.  It can be a beautiful place no matter how challenging.

Do I EVER have good responses to my circumstances?

Ummmmm…

Ok!  Think of three, Sue.  Three positive responses…(and the ability to say something sarcastic is not one of them).

Laughter – sometimes I can really get a good laugh at the ridiculousness of my circumstances

Joy – when I focus on the blessings and provision from God

Worship – when I take a moment to recognize how often God loves me when I’m decidedly unlovable

Getting tangled up in negative thinking and feelings has been all too easy for me.  Even when I’m studying the Word and praying, I can still struggle with negative emotions.  Unfortunately, it seems to be a natural response for me lately.

I know that I can trust God with my life and the lives of my children, and yet I struggle with feeling all those negative emotions.

I am thrashing about in the waves, gulping in tons of water while I grumble, complain, and wail – but there is this blessed undercurrent of peace – my feet are in it.

I’m in it up to my toes.  My goal is to get my whole body in that peaceful place – all the way over my head.

That is my quest this year.  To be not just up to my toes, but up to my head.

To build on those three possible positive responses to my circumstances.

To redefine my response to my life.

To evaluate from a different perspective.

To acknowledge where I am, accept it, trust God with it, and move forward.

To see my life as a blessing.

Want to join me on this journey?

I’d sure like the company.