Grateful and (a little) Stressed

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Photo by Elias Tigiser on Pexels.com

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.  Romans 15:13

This morning barking dogs disturbed my semi-peaceful slumber…at 4:15 am. 

Sometimes I wonder why sleep remains so elusive for me. I found myself asking God, “Really Father? 4:15?”

I know God created me to need sleep so why can’t I have some? 

This morning after trying to ignore the noise, I decided to just get up, take a shower, make some coffee, and have my quiet time. 

I grabbed my journal and unfortunately my first thought was to begin to list my complaints, and just a few in I felt this overwhelming sense of God saying, “Trust me.”  

I stopped writing, looked up, and thought, “God, do I trust you even in this? Not getting sleep? Feeling unhealthy, exhausted, and overworked?”  

I had to say, “Oh Father, I’m so sorry…not completely.”

I trust God with a lot, but there is a fair amount I keep in the “really God?!?” pile. It’s full of the things that seem so unfair, so frustrating, so out-of-my control, so relentlessly difficult and complicated…does anyone else have this pile? And I think maybe I’ve given up a bit on that pile..resigned myself.

On top of the difficulties and struggles is this knowledge that God could easily make everything better. It would take nothing for the Creator of the world to let me sleep all night, to bless my children in all the ways I desperately want them to be blessed,  to let my house not have one more issue, to let life calm down ever so slightly so I could take a breath and get healthy…I have so many “I just don’t understand why, God” moments.

Years ago while discussing challenges in life and the questions that come with them, one of my friends asked, “Why not us? Why do we deserve a life of no difficulties?”

I get it. I even agree. But ugh. It doesn’t seem to help in the thick of things to recognize  that I don’t deserve anything or that I am blessed so much or I should be thankful for where I am, not always longing for where I want to be…I truly do believe that, but I have to live this life…survive this life. And sometimes those truths are just hard.

Recently while discussing the stress in my life, I was challenged to list what I am thankful for…it’s a challenge I’ve accepted many times, but this time I wanted to say, “That isn’t the same thing!” Having stress and being thankful for blessings are not two opposing teams. I can be grateful for many things and still stressed by my circumstances. Can’t they exist together?…if I don’t allow my stress to overwhelm my thankfulness?

I guess in truth it is easy to get overwhelmed right out of thankfulness…particularly at 4:30 a.m. I’m tired, but part of the reason I’m tired this morning is because, just as I was going to sleep last night, my 17 year old son came up to chat. We stayed up having a great conversation for over an hour. I am so very thankful for that…blessed and grateful…and also sleepy.

Do I trust that God has a plan even when I’m beyond tired? Do I trust God when things just refuse to go smoothly? Do I trust God when my children are hurting? Do I trust God when I know He could alleviate the stress, hurts, fears, and challenges, but He doesn’t? I’m asking myself again…Do I trust Him?

Honestly, it’s too easy to say yes. After all, I know it is the correct answer.

I’m just not sure.

But oh how I want to say yes. Yes, Father, I trust you! I do. I do. I do.

In my head I do trust. I trust He loves me. I trust He will do what is best.

Maybe where I’m struggling is I know that trusting Him doesn’t mean that my prayers for rest will be answered. That things might not get better even though I know He could very easily make them so.

That old standby – Philippians 4:6-7 – Do not be anxious…couldn’t it be rephrased, “Do not be stressed”? Anxious means “to be troubled with cares” – sounds like stressed to me, but lack of sleep and difficult challenges add an element of stress that isn’t necessarily anxiety…it’s just stress. Nevertheless, I know that the answer lies in this verse…because the answer is always to involve God.

God’s advice – pray, ask, be grateful – lay it all before Him and let Him give you peace that you can’t even understand. I know most of you probably already realized this, but it doesn’t say that He will fix the situation that made you anxious. It says that He will give you peace that you can’t comprehend. That kind of infers that your peace will be despite your circumstances and struggles. So I can further infer that I’m supposed to pray, ask God for what I need, be grateful for what I have, and trust Him that He will do what is best…hard truth.

There are a few other things in Philippians that speak to this…right after this exhortation, Paul says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (4:8) And if that wasn’t enough, Paul shares this, “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

Two things I take from that…

  1. What I think about makes a difference.
  2. A peaceful life comes from trusting God to give me strength to be content in my circumstances.

Part of my struggle is that the things that give me stress are all around me…I can’t really get away from them no matter how much I try. I’m surrounded! Maybe that is why God says to pray without ceasing…just continually give it to God.

Lord, I just desperately need sleep and it seems so impossible to get…thank you for time with you in the morning and for your sustaining even when I’m exhausted. Lord, you are always with us, I know that. And Father, I know that you love my children and me. Please Lord, would you work mightily in our lives? Show us that you care. I know you do.

Maybe that’s where I start…remind myself that God cares.

“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.” Luke 12:6-7

He cares about it all.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-5

Through Christ, I am comforted. Lord, please help me understand what that looks like. Please allow me to feel comfort even in my stressed and grateful state.

 

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Fire from Heaven

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I’m praying for some serious fire from heaven, but not for the reason you might think.

In the past several years there have been moments I’ve been tempted to pray that God would rain down fire on someone or a couple of someones, but thankfully God has brought me past that phase of this journey.

The other day I was blessed to hear one of the teachers at my school recount the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal.  It’s kind of a cool story.  The kind of story I’d like to be told of me…how I took on 450 bad guys and let God show beyond a shadow of a doubt that He is God.  

Just some background… the Israelite people had been, as Elijah put it, “limping between two different opinions.”  They were trying to serve two gods, God and Baal.  Elijah presents a contest of sorts.  The priest of Baal would be given a bull to cut up and put on the altar. And Elijah would do the same.  Only they would not light the sacrifice, instead they would each pray to their gods.  The god that answered would be the true god…the champion god!

The Baal priests go first.  All night until morning they desperately called for their god to answer them.  By noon on the next day Elijah was less than impressed and a bit snarky.  He said, “Cry aloud, for he is a god.  Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself , or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep, and must be awakened.”  The priests continued to cry out and even cut themselves in an attempt to get Baal’s attention.

But to no avail.  The Bible says, “No one answered; no one paid attention”  (1 Kings 18:29)

Elijah’s turn.  Or rather God’s.

Elijah doesn’t just want to rain down fire on some ole dried up wood.  He wants to show that his God is The God…his God is the One and Only…his God is powerful.

So he has them pour buckets of water on and around his sacrifice three times.  Lots and lots of buckets so there is no doubt it is wet…definitely soaked.  Clothes left on the line in a torrential downpour soaked.

And then he prays.  

“O LORD, God of Abraham, Issac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word.  Answer me, O LORD, answer me that this people may know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” (18:36-37)

And then God answers.  

“The fire of the LORD fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench.”  (18:38)

And then the people responded.

“And when the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The LORD, he is God; the LORD, he is God.” (18:39)

Four verses.  Bam. Bam. Bam. Bam.

And what God designed all along…not only for His glory but for the good of His people…happened.

How I long for fire from heaven like that…for God to move in amazing ways.

That’s not a bad thing…wanting some big fire from heaven burning up my altar…but as I sit here I’m realizing that I often miss the fact that God does move in amazing ways all. the. time.

This week my youngest daughters started school.  Between before-school care and the bus ride home, it is 9 ½ hours.  9 ½ hours that begins with us leaving the house at 6:45 am. That’s just so very long for my littlest ones.  

And I was praying for fire from heaven to consume my fears and frustrations and worries.

Today we met at home – me from work and them from school and it was a beautiful reunion.  Lots of smiles.  Things went well today.  

Thank you Lord.

Last week my high schooler was overwhelmed with the workload he has at school (it is truly stunningly huge) and the two soccer teams he plays on…he was tired and terrified. We prayed and talked and I prayed some more.  

I prayed fire from heaven to consume our anxious thoughts.

And this week, so much better.  Things seem manageable.  We have a plan and we have made adjustments and it looks like he is going to have a great year (lots of work, but a great year!)

Thank you Lord.

Last month my oldest daughter began her journey away from home.  She moved in with a friend and is attending college.  Sophomore year.  Wow.  She has a lot of responsibility and adjustments.  Who am I kidding?  I have a lot of adjustments.  

And I have been praying fire from heaven to fan the flame of her faith and grow her into an even more godly young woman!  (And maybe even some protective fire raining around her 24/7!)

Her calls and texts are full of positive things that bless me to hear.

Thank you Lord.

And these past few years, I have watched my oldest son exceed my expectations.  He has worked hard in school and at his job.  He is paying his way through college and providing for himself.  He is a young man growing into a good good man.  It is hard to let go and it is hard to not be in a position to really step in and help him.

I’ve been praying fire from heaven would consume my guilt and frustration and let me simply enjoy the man God is making my son to be.  And instead I’m focusing on praying for fire from heaven to light his path and lead him.  

Thank you Lord.

I know God is answering these prayers.  I might not be seeing actual flames answering…definitely not (probably wouldn’t want to in all honesty), but I see Him answering in sweet ways.  

Like the soft glow of a candle, I feel His joy when I hug, read a text from, hold hands with, snuggle with, or talk to one of my children.

Like the effervescent light from a sparkler, I feel His love in the eyes of my smiling children.

Like the beam of a flashlight, I sense His leading.

Like the warmth of a fire, I feel His presence and the peace that I need as I wrestle with my circumstances and how those impact my children.

I’d still like to call down some fire from heaven…to show everyone without a doubt that God answers prayers.  But maybe instead of calling down, I can speak about my God and how He cares for me and mine.

I know He can send some fire down, but right now I’m just so thankful He sent Himself down.

So thankful that no matter how I struggle or what I think or how I act, God loves me.  

And no matter what I may think or sense or wonder, I KNOW that He loves me and He is working in my life and the lives of my children.  

So Lord, if you’d like to send some fire down that would be amazing…light up the altar of my heart.  

But I’m okay God…whatever you decide.  

I know that if fire blazing down from heaven was best, you would send it my way.

I know you love me…and that’s a flashing lightning, flames from heaven, dry up all the water, light the logs on fire kinda love.

Pretty spectacular.

Are You Giving UP?

 

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I was talking with a friend lately about how it feels like for the past 5+ years God has asked me to give up A LOT!

Sometimes it feels like all I’m doing is giving up people, things, hopes, and dreams…

Sometimes it has felt unbearable and sometimes it has been relatively easy.

Sometimes the outcome has been good right from the start and other times…well, I’m still waiting to see the good.

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?

Hope in God: for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.  Psalm 42:5

I don’t doubt it will come…eventually.  I understand that sometimes the good isn’t something I’ll be able to see, feel, touch, or even understand.  The good is going to have to be something I trust will happen because I trust God.

But I have to be honest and say that on one hand I’m tired of giving up things and on the other hand I kinda just wanna give up.

Even as I write that…I don’t think I really mean it.  I definitely have those “Good grief!  I give up!” or “Lord, I just can’t take this anymore, please please make it better…I feel like giving up.” Or “God, I trust you.  I’m giving this up to you.”  The last one would be the best one to utter most definitely.

So when I feel like giving up, how do I give my stuff UP to God?

How do I actively trust God enough to not only give up something, but give UP the resulting pain and sorrow and disappointment?

Do you know what I mean?

What does giving Up my stuff to God look like?

I tend to give my things to God and then asking for them back.

God I trust you with my kids, but…

God you can have my finances, but…

God I understand your commands, but…

God I know you’re there to listen, but…

God, I need your grace, but…

God I believe you have a plan, but…

Does anyone else struggle with this?  Am I the only one who takes everything back and heaps it onto my own back again and again and again?

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart,

and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Matthew 11:28-30

Honest to goodness, I have no idea why I take stuff back.  It doesn’t make sense…really.  I know that God’s plan is best.  I know that His way is best.  I know that His timing is best.  I know that His care is best.

I know that He is the best at carrying my burden…and yet, I take it back.  As if…

As if, I have all the answers.

As if, I have all the power and strength.

As if, I have all the energy.

As If, I can do all things.

As if, I know what the heck I’m doing.

It really is a matter of trust.  Do I trust God to handle my life?  My emotions?  My future?  My children?

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding.

In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.  Proverbs 3:5-6

Has God called me to do the impossible?  To continue to give up and give UP when not much makes sense…to continue to trust Him when I can’t see the good…yet?

No, He has not.

God says I can do all things…all the things He has called me to do (and not to do).

So if God has called me to give up some things and to give some things UP…then He is going to enable me to do it.

I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. Philippians 4:13

Reading that verse made me ask, “Why does Christ give me strength?”

That’s one of those questions that seems easy at first and then as I consider it, definitely not.

Maybe it is a simple answer.  Because we need it.

Because He knows we need it.

Because we are weak.

Because we are burdened.

Because we carry grief and sorrow and pain.

Because He understands the giving up and the giving UP…because He gave up an awful lot for me…for us.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form Of God,

did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,

but made himself nothing, taking the

Form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by

becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Philippians 2:5-8

 

In comparison, I have not given up much.  It feels like very much…very, very much…but I cannot forget that I have also been given very, very much.

God might ask for things, but He is exceedingly generous in things too.

And some of that generosity is that He is willing to show us His love and care by taking things…things we more than willingly would give Him.

All this sorrow, grief, pain, suffering, frustration, fear, and just plain aggravation…all that yuck, God says He’ll take it.  He’ll handle it.  I don’t have to.

I don’t exactly know how to get rid of it…I mean really.  I keep giving it to God but grief has a funny way of coming back into my life uninvited.

God, how do I make grief go away?

Can I?

Is this grief, this sorrow, my cross to bear?  And, if so, how do I do it without letting it define me.  How do I carry it, without it becoming unbearable?  How do I even begin to have new adventures when the pain

of the past and even the present lies so heavily on me?

I don’t exactly have the answer, I mean I know the answer, but it isn’t an easy ten step plan.

I believe it is in Christ’s strength.  I believe it is in a constant recognition that I need Him. Desperately.

He is everything.  He will help me.  He says He will.  He says He will carry the burden with me.  I don’t have to do this alone.

This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life.  Psalm 119:50

The yoke He speaks of in Matthew 11 – His yoke…how does that work?  How is it easier and lighter?  And how do I give up my stuff and take His yoke?  I can barely lift my stuff off my shoulders.

God brought me to these verses – I just know it – to remind me of the gospel.  I believe those verses are about the gospel.  Honestly, I’m seeing that all of God’s word is about the gospel.

The rest Christ promises is from all the things we do to make things better…to make us better.

John MacArthur says it like this, “Rest speaks of a permanent respite in the grace of God completely apart from works.”

I think what I’m seeing is God’s answer is the gospel.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves,

it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. 

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, 

which God prepared in advance for us to do.  Ephesians 2:8-10

God has done it all and He is doing it all.  I’m just blessed to be part of the plan.

The gospel is all about what Christ has done…not what I’ve done or do or will do.  Thank goodness!

I can’t fix things here.  I’ve tried.  No luck.

I can’t even “fix” me.

And I certainly can’t “fix” anyone else.

So what can I do?  I can rest in God’s grace.

I can know without a doubt that I’m saved…that I’m loved…that I’m cherished, precious, chosen, beloved, strengthened, protected, secure, never alone, and never forsaken by the One who knows me best.

Whatever the sorrow or pain you bear, He will bear it with you.

Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him.

I will protect him, because he knows my name.

When he calls to me, I will answer him;

I will be with him in trouble;

I will rescue him and honor him.

With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.  Psalm 91:14-16

 When you just feel like giving up, remember the great love God has for you.  Immerse yourself in His word.

 My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to your word!  Psalm 119:28

When you just can’t bear the thought of giving up anything or anyone else, know that He is enough to fill the void…He will take the empty place and make it full again.  He will.  It might not look like you thought or even like you want it to, but He knows best.  Trust.

I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth

of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  Philippians 3:8

Can I be brave and give you an example from my life?  Well, it’s not like I don’t blather it all to y’all anyway…but here goes…

I would love to get married again…to be a helpmate to a godly man.  I would love to have the opportunity to love again within the covenant of marriage…deeply, richly, passionately.

And it seems like God keeps asking me to give that hope up to Him…lately, it has been painful to think about and I want to “fix” my situation…

and at the same time I’m afraid of feeling all the pain of betrayal again.  I can’t bear the thought of it.

But I’m willing to be brave if God opens the door.  If God allows it.  I trust Him.

So one night I decided that I would do what I used to…spend my time with Jesus.  Instead being poor pitiful Sue, I’m putting my face in His word as often as I need to in order to adjust my attitude, comfort my

heart, bring peace to my thoughts, or remind myself of His love for me.    (And He’s even blessing me with the groundwork for a 2nd book that I’m prayerfully starting!)

And it’s working!  It is helping me so very much.  I’m remembering how God got me through 5 years ago…how He comforted and quieted my heart with His word.

O LORD, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high;

I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.

But I have calmed and quieted my soul,

like a weaned child with its mother,

like a weaned child is my soul within me.

O Israel, hope in the LORD from this time forth and forevermore.  Psalm 131

He’s doing that again.  He’s reminding me that He is worthy of my praise – He is worthy of my trust.

I can have hope because God is my hope.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope…  Psalm 130:5

God has indeed asked me to give up much.  He has asked me to trust Him with the giving up.  And He has asked me to give UP some things to Him – to entrust Him with some things I hold very dear.

It isn’t easy, but I’m willing.  I’m willing because I know that His ways are ALWAYS best.

I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.  Job 42:2

God allows difficult things to happen in our lives because He knows that through those things we will know and we will show that He is trustworthy.  He knows beforehand that He is going to equip us to walk

through whatever path He lays before us.  He knows beforehand that He is going to give us the strength we need to do what He has called me to do…to fulfill His purpose for us.

His purpose for me right now is to walk a path that is a bit rocky…but He hasn’t asked me to do something that He hasn’t prepared me to do.  He’s prepared me and is equipping me to live where He has me.

And He has done the same for you.

And we can certainly thank God , no matter how sad and sorrowful, no matter how angry and frustrated, no matter how disappointed and grumpy we are, He will NEVER give up on us.