Tag: faith

Faith, Joy

Leading Boldly In Overwhelming Circumstances

Leading Boldly in overwhelming circumstances I long for a good leader. 

I desperately want to find someone in charge who I can trust; a channel where the news reports just the objective facts, untainted by the political leanings of a news organization.

I want a hero, and selfless acts to celebrate.I want someone to stop the madness that is 2020.

In the midst of this chaos, I find myself reading my Bible more often than usual. Since the Corona virus started, my church has offered a weekly “Battle Plan” against the virus and the unrest in our world, which involves daily prayers and reading various books of the Bible. That week we were in the book of Acts, and as I read Acts 27, I found the leader I was seeking.

He spoke like he was in charge. He gave advice as if they might actually listen. He rebuked them with wisdom when they made dangerous decisions. He wasn’t the boss, or the captain of the ship, or even one of the guards. He was a prisoner: Paul.

Paul was imprisoned on a ship that had set sail, despite warnings, and became caught in the midst of a horrible storm. Before long, the crew was fearing for their lives, trying every possible solution to gain control, only to find themselves starving, with a ship on the verge of utter destruction, and no respite in sight.

Acts 27:20 says, “When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved.”

That’s when Paul spoke up, not caring that he was just a prisoner, and unafraid of the consequences. He offered this encouragement he heard from an angel of God:

But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed. Last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.’ So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me. Acts 27:22-25

Paul’s continual guidance served as a single beacon of light on that ill fated boat trip, and voicing this hope boldly kept every single person alive. His words and undeniable leadership kept them going until they were all safely on land.

What if Paul had looked at the circumstances and said, “You’re right. This is hopeless. Let’s all just curl up and cry. On second thought, let’s just all jump overboard…why extend the misery?”

If the only thing Paul relied on was what he could see and perceive with his physical senses, an entire ship full of people would have died.

Paul was deeply in tune with God’s voice, and the Holy Spirit’s leading. That night on the boat, God showed him truth, and gave him hope, despite the circumstances…and his faith led others to have faith, giving them the will to press on.

My friends, isn’t it hard to press on right now?

As if the thousands of details of life aren’t complicated enough, throwing a global pandemic into the mix has led even strong people to a place of mental, physical and spiritual exhaustion.

And the fear…fear of illness; fear of family members becoming ill; fear of being quarantined; fear of losing a job; fear of school being cancelled; fear of school being open…It’s alarming how quickly fear breeds more fear.

But in my long struggle against anxiety, I’ve also learned that gratitude breeds more gratitude. The more you practice gratitude, the more your mind is drawn towards peaceful thoughts, instead of despair.

Being thankful for health; thankful for good doctors; thankful for people who put their lives on the line to save ours; thankful for teachers; thankful for food; thankful for a home that is cool on a hot, humid, southern night; thankful for a cat who likes to sit on my lap; thankful for a can of cherry seltzer…thankfulness in the little things helps push despair away, so you can hear that still small voice of peace and hope.

Just as fear and despair and worry is contagious, so is gratitude and peace.

Which will you choose?

Where will you put your hope?

How will you lead the people on your boat?

Read the full story to see Paul’s remarkable leadership in the midst of adversity: Acts 27

Faith, More Posts

Waiting for Easter and normal life to return…

I can’t imagine how disillusioned and disappointed they felt. In one day, their hopes, dreams and plans vanished, as they stared at Jesus, dead on a cross. The one they had given their lives, and their livelihoods, to follow: Dead.

In 2020, we have the benefit of knowing that the story doesn’t end with Jesus dying on the cross. That on Easter Sunday, He miraculously rose from the dead. But his disciples, friends and family didn’t know the full story during the long hours that spanned from Jesus’s death until they found His tomb empty on Easter Sunday morning.

And here, as we sit in the isolation of COVID-19, we are in a season of unsettled waiting, as well. Many are in despair. We bounce amongst the walls of our homes, and wait. We go for a walk, and wait. Those of you who are essential workers are working, working, and working and waiting for a chance to stop and rest.

We don’t know what is to come. We don’t know what is next. We don’t know if our very lives may be lost; or our livelihoods; or maybe both.

But God does.

Who would have imagined a virus could spread across the world and shut down nations, economies and everything within? That the entire modern world would be isolated in their homes, afraid to interact, and terrified of catching an invisible illness?

God works quickly, decisively, and resolutely sometimes. And often, ironically, those periods coincide with a season of waiting for what’s next. Like this season of waiting.

Here are some things to ponder, during this odd and unlikely time:

– What have you written off as being dead, that is actually in the process of being brought to life (or resurrected) in a new way?

– What areas have you let fall to the wayside in the busyness of your normal life?

– What things are you desperately missing (Church, Starbucks, chicken wings, your kids going to school, the novelty of a schedule) that you took for granted?

– Who are you missing that you cannot see right now, even if you wanted to?

I think this season of waiting is making me immensely more informed of the many blessings of my normal daily routine. Don’t you?

As for me, I’m living out this COVID-19 pandemic one hour a time. Some hours I feel like it’s the best thing, having more downtime with my family. Other hours, I feel I am on 2020’s hit list.

Today, however, one thing is very clear: COVID-19 didn’t stop Easter weekend from arriving; a weekend when we are reminded of God’s power. He brought Jesus back to life, and He will do the same thing for us, our circumstances, and our lives.

Our faith can be made stronger, or fall apart, during times like these. Let’s help each other stand strong, look up, and wait patiently.

It really is a matter of time until the miracle of a daily routine will be given back to us. Let’s be ready to embrace it with a new perspective, fresh gratefulness, and a full awareness of the blessing that comes from living “normal life”.

Faith

Renewing My View of Hope

I’ve been afraid to hope. I feel like my adult life has been full of so many overwhelming challenges, unexpected turns, and blows to my hopes that it has put me in a place where I am afraid to extend that fragile vine of light.

It’s not that I’ve been hope-less. There is a difference between being afraid to hope and having no hope.

Being hopeless looks like in-the-pit despair; feeling like there is no path forward; being at the end of yourself with no energy, gumption or will to move on.

Being afraid to hope feels more like disappointment; not wanting to take chances; being afraid of outcomes; and an inability to fully take hold of whatever is in front of me, because it may all fall apart anyway.

When I’m honest, my fear of hoping comes from not trusting God, and wanting life to go MY way, instead of HIS way.

If I put my hope in people, or outcomes, or the acquisition of things, then I will be disappointed. 

I hope to take a trip to Florida; I hope my husband takes me out to dinner AND has the kids fed before I get home; I hope this new plan I’m putting together brings in income; I hope work is easy today…

If I put my hope in God, and trust that His plan is better than mine, my hopes are rewritten in a new way:

I trust that God loves my kids even more than I do. I trust that He will use each experience to hone them, and form them…the good and the bad…just as He has done for me. I trust God loves my family, and has good plans for us, and will lead us in ways to come alongside each other, exactly as we need to each day. I trust that God has a plan, so I will do my work diligently. I trust him to provide exactly what we need.

My fear of hoping also comes from disappointment in the times that I hoped for things that did not come to pass.

I hoped for our small business to not go out of business, but it did.

I hoped for my children to be born healthy, but one spent three weeks in the NICU and then has had to endure many surgeries throughout his childhood.

I hoped for relationships to be restored, only to have them continue to be bitterly broken.

I hoped to be a writer with my books covering an entire shelf in the library…but God has had other plans, so far…

Why am I so quick to list my dashed hopes, instead of hopes that were fulfilled? Afterall, the Bible says “we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character, and character, hope. Romans 5:3-4

The truth is that there have been many, many times my hopes had great outcomes:

I hoped for a new piece of equipment for our business, and it came to pass, allowing us to continue to employ our staff for many more years.

I hoped for my husband to be cured from his Stage 3 testicular cancer, and he was healed and made whole again, even after being so very sick.

I hoped for three children, and, despite many odds, I now have three beautiful, healthy children…even though the doctors said we wouldn’t have a third, after my husband’s cancer diagnosis.

I hoped for a way out of running our all-consuming  business, and to pursue ministry work…and God led me out of our business, and into my current job at a ministry.

But what is amazing about both the hopes that came to pass, and those that didn’t, is that they all grew me, refined me, and made me lean on God in an entirely new way. So, when the things I am hoping for now, don’t seem to be going my way, I need to trust that God is working me towards something better.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jer 29:11

Now I’m working on aligning my hopes with God’s plan for me. I’m asking if the things I’m putting my hope in are things that will pass away, or if it’s in something deeper and more meaningful.

What does life look like if our hopes aren’t in things or people? What if we have hopes like these:

I hope to live my life in a way that is consistent and kind.

I hope to be a light to the people around me, and encourage them as they walk out the tough stuff of life.

I hope to let go of the things the world says I should be (or my kids should be, or my husband should be), and really see them and love them for who they ARE; for who God made them to be.

Learning to put our hope in God means valuing what God values, over what the world values. It means aligning ourselves with His plans, instead of our own plans. It means realizing that the outcome isn’t about more money or a bigger house, or a newer car, but about what He’s doing in our lives to grow us closer to Him, and closer to each other.

Afterall, where God is growing a heart, hope abounds.

Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long. Psalm 25:5

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people. Ephesians 1:18

 

Married Life, Mom Life

Ten Years After Cancer: Life Lessons that Remain True

In 2009 my husband was diagnosed with Stage III Testicular Cancer. It presented as a 10cm tumor near his right kidney, and he was extremely sick…so sick, I thought he was going to die. We were parents of two small children. We owned a small business with a staff of 17.

Rich’s cancer diagnosis coincided with the recession of 2008/2009…the time when people were losing their homes, foreclosures became commonplace, and bankruptcy lost some of its stigma because so many people had to file.

My husband grew sicker as the chemotherapy began to do its work of “melting the tumor like butter,” as Rich’s oncologist said. As he endured infections and nausea, I  fed him a steady diet of milkshakes and omelets because that’s all he could keep down.

I watched our business’s sales plummet by 40%, and I thought we were going to lose everything. I kept this from Rich, because I didn’t want him to worry. I just wanted him to get better.

One night, as I sat down to journal, I began to make a list of business ideas and promotions to help spur our sales. I wracked my brain, trying to come up with the magic fix that would save us from the plummet. As I wrestled with ideas and tried to figure out how to implement them, I asked for God’s direction…I asked if these ideas would work. I asked for His blessing on them.

I heard in my spirit His still, calm voice:

“You could do all of this work, but the outcome will be the same.”

What do you mean, the outcome will be the same? If I could just do more, or perform more, or come up with one magical idea…things will be okay. I can save the day.

“You can choose to focus your energy on your business, or your husband. You can be up all night programming sales into your website, or you can rest, so you can take care of Rich and your kids. The outcome for your business will be the same.”

At that moment, my priorities came into immediate perspective.

Rich came first. Taking care of him and being there for him however was needed had to be my very top priority.

My kids came second. This was a huge change for me, because ever since I’d had my daughter five years earlier, my kids took the number one position in my life. I realized that God was giving me the opportunity to teach them that we all are important, and when one person is going through a hard time, the rest rally to help lay a firm foundation of love and care beneath him.

I came third. I wrote in my journal, read my Bible and began working out every morning…a half hour exercise video served as my prozac. With Jillian Michaels, I punched, stomped and kicked cancer and all it was doing to our family and life. I got into good shape!

Everything else came after that.

That’s the year I learned how to not do everything, because there physically was no way I could do everything.

That’s the year I laid down my ideas of how life was supposed to go, and instead accepted that God had a different plan.

That’s the year I learned that hard things happen, even if you do everything possible to avoid them. People will ask lots of questions, pondering ways you could have avoided the bad circumstance (What was Rich’s diet? Does he exercise? Is there any family history of cancer? Does he carry his cell phone in his pocket?)…but in truth, some hard chapters are just there to live through, and if you choose to, they will grow you closer to God in ways that easy chapters never could.

That’s the year I learned that, when you stop doing everything, some people will come alongside you and hold your hand, telling you that surviving is enough…and others will be there, reminding you of all the ways you are failing.

That’s the year I learned that my performance is for an audience of one: God. And if I’m listening to Him, and earnestly trying to follow His lead each day, then it doesn’t matter what the outcome is, or what other people think of me…it’s between them and God.

That’s the year I learned that God is my provider…not my business, and not my husband. Gifts and money came from unlikely places, sustaining us through one of the most challenging seasons of our lives.

That’s the year I learned that nothing in this world is guaranteed; that health, good fortune and our livelihoods are temporal. You can’t base your peace or sense of worth on any of them.

That’s the year I learned that the one solid thing I can hang onto is God’s faithful love and peace. Despite all human reason, God’s presence persists through it all, providing each step, one minute at a time. Sometimes those steps are dances of joy…and sometimes they feel like I’m trying to walk with two broken legs. I’ve learned that both types of steps are okay as long as they move me forward, and closer to God.

I never wanted cancer written into my life. But nearly ten years later, I can say that God wove deep truths into my life during that time; truths that continue to echo in my spirit today. Remembering God’s faithfulness and grace continues to encourage me when difficult circumstances come my way. Because They never fail.

2 Cor 12:9 “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

Faith

Following A Sense of Peace

I woke up in the middle of the night, and as I rolled over, I marveled over something unusual. For the past several years, it became common for me to jolt awake at some odd hour, and have adrenaline begin to course through me as I thought about the day before; or the day behind; or the never-ending list of tasks I needed to do.

But that night, I realized that I wasn’t feeling the adrenaline surge. Instead, I felt something much more pleasant…a sense of contentment, and a place of peace. Somehow, waking up in the middle of the night really became about simply rolling to a new position, and not about trying to steal unmarked time to fix all the undone things in my life.

As I’ve navigated through the last year, I’ve had many opportunities to choose peace in my heart, or complete and utter panic and worry. It’s not the sort of thing you choose once, and you’re all set and off the worry train. It’s a constant choice, again and again and again.

My mind woke up a bit more as I snuggled back into bed, and I began to feel the worries begin to nag at me. There are so many details that are open in our lives right now; so much opportunity to freak out…most people’s lives are like this, and I know we are no exception.

I felt like my mind was telling me, “Peace? Seriously? Look at all that is COMPLETELY NUTS right now! How can you have peace? That’s lazy, and a cop-out, and unless you spend tonight worrying about it, you won’t figure it out! Maybe you were woken up so you could FIGURE IT OUT!”

And the quieter voice said, “No…no….it’s time to sleep. Peace. God has this under control. I can trust God. He’s going to give me what I need during my waking hours. The night time is for sleeping and rest. I will rest.”

It’s a constant struggle to listen to the quieter voice. But after a year of watching some of my worst-case life scenarios play out, I can say…worry did NOTHING to help me navigate it. It was God’s still, calm voice that provided EVERY SINGLE STEP we were supposed to take. And I needed plenty of rest to complete each of those steps.

I’m learning to walk according to a feeling in my heart that aligns with that sense of God’s peace, and to pursue things that make that sense of peace grow stronger. As I work to find a job here in Nashville, when I read the job descriptions, I ask…does the idea of doing this job give me peace? Or does it make me freak out with anxiety, even though I’m fully qualified to do it? I’m applying to the places that seem to offer peace to my soul. The over-achiever in me would apply to the position with the most responsibility, or the most pay. Places of power and high positions don’t motivate me. It’s places of peace that I crave.

As I was thinking about this new and steady singing in my heart, I found myself reading Psalm 28, and was struck by versus 6-8:

Praise be to the LORD, for he has heard my cry for mercy. The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him. 

Here’s what I noticed:

God has heard me, and He hears my cries for mercy. My prayers are not in vain. He knows exactly what is going on, and is fully capable of solving our problems in a moment’s time. If we’re still stuck in the problem, He knows it, and is using it to lead us where He wants us to be, in our mind, body and spirit.

God is my strength and my shield. It’s not my great ideas or workaholic tendencies that will save me. It’s God himself. He provides the ideas; He provides the strength; He provides the protection…which is good, because He is so much better at it than I am!

My heart trusts in him. It’s a choice whether to trust God, or not. When my heart trusts in God, often my mind is saying, “Are you crazy? This makes no sense! You need to fix what’s broken! That’s irresponsible! You can do better than that!” But my heart is saying, “Trust. God is faithful. Rest in Him. Simply take the next step He shows you.”

When I decide to trust him…HE HELPS ME! So, the prayers and cries for mercy are answered with HIS HELP…it’s a cycle: Trust leads to help, which leads to trust, which leads to help, which leads to deeper trust…I play an active role in the growth of my faith, or the withering of it.

When we experience God’s divine intervention in our lives, and the help arrives; or when we are still praying and waiting and have so many unanswered questions, but still choose to have peace…our hearts leap for joy! I’ve felt my heart leap for joy in the past, when my babies were born, or when I walked down the aisle towards Rich, the day we married. But to feel your heart leap for joy, in the middle of the night, when you roll over in bed? When your heart is full of a sense of effervescent wonder at Him, and His love, and how He has carried you, against all odds? That He has done the impossible, and will continue to do the impossible? And the humble realization that there is no end to His help and protection and peace? When your heart KNOWS that in a new way, and you catch yourself LIVING that truth on a subconscious level, in the middle of the night, there is only one response:

With my song I praise Him.
I can’t sing well, but I can write. So this post, my friends, is my song of praise, offered to all of you!

May God’s peace be with you!

John 14:27  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.

Faith, Joy

Learning To Choose Joy

I am waiting for the certainty. I am longing for the guarantee.

It’s been well over a year since we’ve had a predictable paycheck, and in that time, we watched the business we spent 19 years building, be systematically disassembled.

In the face of starting over mid-life, we moved across the country. We placed our homeschooled children into public school. With more changes on the horizon, I continue to wait for some semblance of normal to return to my life. Instead, all I see is the open space of time…and the frustration of not being able to see beyond the very next step.

As a natural-born planner, it’s been a struggle to live this life of daily faith God has called me to, time and time again. Owning a business, we didn’t have the luxury of planning many aspects of our lives…there was almost always an unexpected need, or expense; some fire that required our full attention. We learned to grab pieces of time and last-minute trips, whenever the opportunity presented itself.

As I examine the lives around me, I see that for all people, life is uncertain. Most just don’t realize it until it sneaks up on them, unexpectedly.

I didn’t expect my son to be born with a birth defect requiring a childhood speckled with surgeries.

I didn’t expect my 37-year-old husband to present with Stage 3 Testicular Cancer, requiring aggressive chemotherapy.

When I was a little girl, I didn’t expect to live in California…and I certainly didn’t expect God to move us to Tennessee midlife…

All of these life surprises tend to initially fill me with a feeling like panic; like my body is full of soda or a million ants marching…then the breathless and torturous waiting until the uncertain becomes known, and then finally a part of my past.

It’s easy to declare God’s faithfulness after the trial…but why is that feeling so illusive when I’m in the midst of it? How can I grasp the freedom of KNOWING I can rest in Him, and trust in Him, even when I don’t know the final outcome? I’m realizing it requires a deeper level of faith than I knew before.

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for” (Hebrews 11:1-2 )

I’ve been hoping for a guarantee. Something tangible. I’ve been waiting for my husband to go to work, and come home, and have a “normal life” with normal stresses. The truth is that we are starting a new business, so we are a long, long way from that happening. I need to become comfortable living in this new form of uncertainty, once again. I need to let go of my concept of what constitutes a “normal” life, and instead embrace my actual life.

Instead of focusing on the things going wrong…the problems, the unresolved issues, the troubles, the struggles…God wants me to focus on Him, and His promises.

He is good. He is faithful. He holds me by my right hand. He is always with me. He started something good, and will finish it. He has not finished writing my story yet.

Several months ago as I was praying, I saw the shambles of my life like the ashes left over after a house fire. You could recognize some key pieces of the home…the chimney; the brick facade; random pieces of pottery that were fire resistant…but the rest was gone. Completely and utterly ruined. Unrecognizable. My life.

“How long do I need to live amongst these ashes?” I asked God.

I felt him draw my eyes up from the ashes to the top of a wall. Beautiful, lush ivy was growing there, full of life and health and vibrancy. It’s the new life God is building out of these ashes, and it had already begun to grow. I felt His spirit ask…will you focus on the ashes, and all you must leave behind, or on this new thing? It’s up to you…

Do I cling to this impossible goal of certainty, or learn a new way to walk out these days I’ve been given? It’s up to me.

Trusting God is hard, but I know that NOT trusting leads only to fret and despair. So for now, one minute at a time, I will lay down chasing this god of certainty, and embrace God and the wildness of His Holy Spirit…the God who allowed our business to thrive for 19 years, then suddenly fall apart. The God who established my boundaries in pleasant places in California, then ripped up the tent stakes and moved us to Tennessee. The God who has plans for me…good plans…if I choose to follow them, instead of choosing to follow fear, one step at a time. It’s up to me.

So, today, I will choose His path.

Today, I choose joy.


Habakkuk 3:17-18
Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LordI will be joyful in God my Savior.

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