Keep On Going – Even When It’s Hard

A few years back I was at a women’s bible study on the book of Ruth.  This particular lesson was on Naomi, in Chapter 1.

Naomi and her husband, with their two sons, had moved from Bethlehem Judah to the country of Moab because of famine.  However after settling in Moab, her husband died, leaving Naomi to raise their 2 sons alone in a foreign land.

Naomi’s boys ended up both marrying Moabite women, but after living in Moab about 10 years, both of them ended up dying as well!  Naomi was now all alone, except for her 2 daughters-in-law.

kind & compassioniateBut then Naomi heard that things had gotten better in her homeland of Bethlehem, so she decided to head back there – back to her family and friends.

She was lonely and hurting, and needed family around to help her overcome her grief.

During the bible study that evening, the leader asked us:  “What do you do when things have fallen apart and you don’t know what to do next?”

As we all contemplated her question, I was reminded of when we lost our boys – particularly after we lost our son Matthew (e.g. Remember Through Your Pain…).  Even though the pain was deeper than we could handle on some days, we knew that we had to keep doing what we knew we needed to be doing – in other words, keep attending church so we could be around other believers and hear God’s word.

I shared that with the group, telling them that one time it was so difficult that I had to get up right in the middle of the sermon and run away to cry my eyes out in the women’s restroom.

Yet here’s a fact:  Even though my husband Gary and I at times didn’t really feel like we wanted to keep going to church, whether because of anger, grief or whatever we were feeling at any particular moment – we knew we had to keep doing it.  We needed the familiarity of family and friends, similar to what we believe Naomi was feeling.

And, after forcing ourselves to do so week after painful week, we eventually felt God start to melt our hearts…

This also reminded me of another bible study I’d done years prior called Experiencing God.  In this study, the author tells us we always need to keep doing what we know we are supposed to be doing – even if sometimes it’s hard.

The bible certainly tells us we need to stay in fellowship with other believers (Hebrews 10:25).  We need each other!

aloneIt’s easy to “run away” from things that make you uncomfortable, isn’t it?  When I’m in pain the last thing I want to do is be around smiling people.  Because in my clouded frame of mind I tend to see all the smiling people living perfect lives with their perfect families, with nothing ever going wrong.

But does anyone really have that?  No, I don’t think so.

If we start to run away everytime something happens which makes us uncomfortable or hurts our feelings, we’re going to end up all alone – just like Naomi was feeling being so far away from her home country with few friends or family around.

We need people with a like faith that can surround us, pray for us, and just hug us when we’re hurting.

Moving from the west coast to Texas a few years back, we knew no one.  Yet God brought us family in our church who have stood by us, and pray for us when we need it.  It’s been hard sometimes being away from my sister and her family – as well as friends that stood by us when we lost our sons – yet we’re so thankful that God always gives us brothers and sisters that continue to exhort us and encourage us when we’re down.

So never give up, friends.  Keep on moving forward even when your feet feel like they’ve been planted in cement.  There are people all around who really want to encourage you and love on you – if you let them.

What’s The Secret?

Last Sunday at church I spotted an older gentleman that I hadn’t talked to for awhile.  Since there was plenty of time before service started, I went over and asked him how he had been doing as I knew he was struggling with health issues.

Usually this sweet man would stand up and give me a hug (even though I knew it was hard for him to do so), but this time he didn’t stand, so I knew he was hurting even more than usual.  My heart broke for him.

Yet even though he was suffering, he gave me one of his biggest smiles, and a wonderful strong handshake.

“How ya been doing, darlin’?” he asked.

I told him I’d been doing well, and then asked how he was.

With his smile still firmly in place, he shrugged his shoulders, and said, “I’m thankful that every day I can wake up and get up out of bed.  God is good.”

with you alwaysIf ever I had personally met a man who was filled with the joy of the Lord, it was he.  I don’t ever think I have ever seen him without that smile on his face, or sharing love with someone else in the congregation.  If I can use the term for a guy, I’d say his whole demeanor has always been “radiant.”

The words with this sweet man on Sunday brought to remembrance a devotional I read awhile back about a young Christian woman whose life had been filled with one painful event after another.

A woman asked this gal one day how she could always be so cheerful and happy when she’d had to live through so many difficulties.  Her reply?

“The secret is this:  I’ve learned there’s little I can do in my life that’ll make me truly happy.  I must depend on God to make me happy and meet my needs.  And, He’s never let me down.  Since I learned that secret, I’ve been happy.”

Wow!  Totally matches up with Philippians 4:12-13, 19 (NLT):

I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything.  I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little.  For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength…  And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.

yankees

Jeffrey in middle school

The above passage of Scripture has worked its way into my life on so many different occasions.  Probably one of the biggest was when God opened all sorts of doors for our son with special needs to move out of state to college (e.g. Precious Surprises for JeffreyAnother Miracle for Jeffrey).  In spite of my health issues that came out of the blue during that stressful time (Last Surgery), God’s timing had always been perfect.

Yet I have to admit that I’m certainly not happy or joyful all the time.  As a matter of fact, a lot of the time I’m just flat-out cranky and irritable.  Why?  Because in some way or the other my own selfish needs have not been met in the way “I” think they should’ve been.

I’d like to end today’s post by just saying how thankful I am that I am able to attend church and have fellowship with other believers.  Because that’s one of the ways we learn, isn’t it?  It’s one thing to read a devotional in the peacefulness of our own home, but it’s quite another to see the words of our Lord God being lived out in others’ lives – just the way it has been with my elderly gentleman friend.

 

 

Scraped Like Sandpaper

A few years back I sent a note to a friend asking how things were going; particularly with her husband since he had recently been diagnosed with the early stages of dementia.

Her reply was that she felt God was using this latest development in her life as sandpaper to help scrape off all the rough edges that were still in her life.

Ouch!

But the more I think about it, the more accurate that term becomes in our walks with God.  We need those “sandpaper moments” in order to make us more beautiful as children of God – both inside and out.

Have you had “sandpaper moments?”  I’m sure you have.

One that happened to me a few years ago came out of the blue.  I really felt I was supposed to get involved in a certain ministry at a church we attended for a short while.  I prayed a lot, and felt I got confirmation from both the Lord – as well as a good friend who had also been praying.  So I moved forward.

be wiseEverything seemed to be going great, then one day I received an extremely nasty email from one of the leaders of the church, basically stating I was being pompous and boastful in what I was feeling led to do, and that if I felt my way was so much better than what they were already doing in the church, “I had a problem.”

After feeling the sandpaper scraping me painfully, I went and laid myself before the Lord.  And I felt led to write back apologizing, even though I really felt this person had taken what had happened way out of context.

Let’s just say things escalated from there.  My apology seemed to go nowhere.  My husband Gary even tried to contact this person because he felt things had been misunderstood, as well, but this person refused to take any of his calls!

As a matter of fact, one day after Gary had left a message, he received an email from this same person acknowledging that he’d received his voicemails, but if Gary was calling to tell him that he’d sinned in sending me the email, to not bother, as he had not sinned.

His note continued that if we wanted to become more involved at church, we needed to get on board with the programs already in place.

Gary is quite good at just letting things like that slide, but I was crushed.  Had I really been so wrong in what I’d said and done?  I hadn’t thought so.

Soon after I got confirmation from the Lord who reminded me of Mordecai’s words to Queen Esther when the Jews were about to be annihilated in Esther 4:14:  “Who knows if you were not put in this place for just such a time as this?”

I was so thankful for God’s words of encouragement to me, yet I still struggled.  I never wanted to cause any trouble!

go'ds purposeOne morning as I was having my devotional time, I came to Psalm 57, and the words penned by King David became such a sweet soothing presence to me.  I read of how David’s soul took refuge and found shelter and confidence in God (v. 1); how God would save him from the slanders and reproaches of those trampling him down (v. 3); how his heart was fixed upon Him, steadfast and confident (v. 7); and that he knew God’s mercy and loving-kindness reached to the heavens (v. 10-11).

Yes!

It says in 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 (NLT):

For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long.  Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!  So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen.  For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.

Oh to remember that God sometimes places us in uncomfortable positions to help us grow!

Through all that, I learned so much.  It’s given me an awareness that I really hadn’t had before about the inner workings of ministry.

My husband and I know a couple who love to pickup old pieces of furniture people have discarded.  They then take it to their workshop, and slowly start scraping and scraping with their sandpaper until a beautiful piece of furniture appears underneath.

So keep scraping me, Lord.  I want to be all that You want me to be.

 

Sometimes You Just Gotta Run

What’s your weakness?  Something you really struggle with?

I’ve got a lot of stuff that gets in the way of my walk sometimes.  Pride, jealousy, failures (I beat myself up a lot about those), and just basic low self-esteem which I talk about often.

But one of the keys to living an abundant life is recognizing that you’re not perfect, and that regardless of your failures you still are loved and cherished by your Heavenly Father.  Remember the Apostle Paul and his failures I wrote about in Getting Upset At Dumb Stuff?

you're specialThere’s one gal I was trying to mentor for awhile that was an alcoholic, but she refused to admit it.  She shared with me one day that alcoholism ran in her family, but she knew “she wasn’t one.”  Yet then I’d get an “SOS” text from her stating that she’d started drinking the previous night and “couldn’t stop – please pray for me!”

Oh, denial – we don’t want to admit our struggles sometimes, do we?

One time in particular, after receiving from her another SOS note, felt led to respond by quoting 1 Corinthians 10:13 (NLT):

The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience.  And God is faithful.  He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand.  When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.

I then told her she needed to stay away from the bars and cocktail lounges, even when friends of hers were going.

She said she realized that, but right now her problem was also overboard drinking at home.  She was blaming Satan – but again the Lord gave me Scripture, this time from James 4:7 (NIV):

Submit yourselves … to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

Since this gal was a fairly new Christian, I explained to her that even Jesus, the Son of God, also had to resist temptation from the devil while He was in the wilderness after His public ministry started (Matthew 4:1-11).  And how did Jesus do that?  He quoted Scripture!

I told her how important it was to read God’s Word and memorize Bible verses.  Because on our own, we are weak and helpless (2 Corinthians 12:9), but with God all things are possible (Mark 10:27).

be strongSo, what’s your weakness?  Let’s say its feeling like a failure.  What are you going to do about it?  The principles above can be used in whatever you’re dealing with.  If you’ve trusted in Jesus as your Savior, you are not a failure and never will be!  So flee – run away from the thoughts encircling your mind.  Don’t let the devil get a foothold (Ephesians 4:27)!  Instead put on the full armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-17) and stand strong.  The enemy doesn’t want you to live a victorious life – he wants to have you running scared and feeling unworthy (1 Peter 5:8) instead.

I’ve thrown a lot of Scripture at you today, but my prayer is that you will realize that temptation is everywhere, and we all need to be alert and realize what causes us to struggle.  And, when we find ourselves starting to fall into a place where we know we shouldn’t be, we need to stand strong, give it to God and use the power He has given us.

God loves you so dearly, my friends.  Remember you need never be afraid, and there is always a way back.  Just like the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32, Jesus is waiting for you, and as you run to Him, He will open His arms in love.

Getting Upset At Dumb Stuff

A common misconception that people have about us Christians is that we “have it all together.”  Ha – what a hoot!

Thankfully I know that I’m not alone.  As a matter of fact, every friend I have struggles with those moments when they just fall apart, a lot of times just at dumb stuff.

During those moments, you start to stew about “why” this is happening to you.  I mean, Lord – don’t You know that this really bothers me?

I like to think I’m not selfish and always try to put others’ needs in front of my own, but I know that’s not true.  Oh, I do okay for a time (sometimes unfortunately just for a few minutes), but then something irritates me and all of a sudden my mindset shifts.

Are you with me?

perfect timigOne time that came to mind recently was shortly after moving to Texas.  After living on the west coast for the majority of my life, I wasn’t used to the heat day-after-day from early spring through October.

On this particular afternoon, I noticed for some reason our air conditioner didn’t seem to be keeping the house very cool.  I decided to go outside to examine our unit, as if somehow I’d be able to figure out what was wrong.  Then I made a note of the brand name of ours, and the brands of our two next-door neighbors.

I then went inside and Googled air conditioners, doing a comparison on the three brand names that I had written down.  And to me it looked like we had been given one of the cheapest ones.  That wasn’t fair!

Gary was working at home that day, so I immediately started in on a rampage:  “You should see what I found on Google about A/C units – our builder installed a cheap one!”

Gary was in one of his patient moods deciding not to bite at my bait, but instead simply stayed calm and called the A/C company which was listed on our thermostat to see if they could send someone out.

A little later a nice young man came and tested our unit.  I was still all fired-up about my Google findings, so I decided to put him to the test.  “This unit really isn’t sufficient for our home, is it?”

D-land

Love Jeffrey’s face in this one!

He stated our unit was certainly good enough for our home, and after running a few tests found that the problem came from a leak in one of the hoses.  He fixed it, and waa-laa!  Everything worked great.

Once he left I started to calm down, and wondered why I’d gotten so riled-up about the issue in the first place.  Didn’t the Lord Himself guide us to this home?  Did He not know our needs?

Did I not trust Him?

For those of you who struggle with these same issues, be encouraged!  Because the Apostle Paul himself had moments where he felt the same way:

I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it.  Instead I do what I hate…  And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  I want to do what is right, but I can’t.  I want to do what is good, but I don’t.  I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway...  I have discovered this principle of life – that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong…  But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind.  This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me.  Oh, what a miserable person I am!  Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?  Thank God!  The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord…

Romans 7:15-25 (NLT)

As I sat the next morning after the A/C stress-day, I was reminded of those words of the Apostle Paul.  If he himself struggled with the same stuff I did, I figured I was going to be okay.

And, of course, I later read this in one of my devotionals:  “God looks for persistence – rather than perfection – in our walks with Him.”

Yes, sometimes our lives are one-step forward; then two-steps back.  Yet keep on going – God knows right where you are!

Prayer – Does It Really Change Things?

James 5:16 (AMP) says:  “… The earnest (heartfelt, continued) prayer of a righteous man makes tremendous power available [dynamic in its working].”

Do you believe that?  I do, because time and again I’ve seen answers to prayer come to pass.  Let me share just a couple examples:

First, I wrote in Gotta Get Out Of Here, that a big concern I had once we had found a home in Texas was that our house in Oregon still hadn’t sold.  How on earth could we afford to pay 2 house payments?

That was back in December 2011.  Well come April 2012, we were in our new home, but still paying double house payments.  And the Lord had provided!  However we could definitely see our bank account dwindling rapidly.  We were praying, and our friends in Oregon were praying, as well.

I have to admit both Gary and I were getting a little nervous.  Gary had thought his employer was going to assist in selling our home in Oregon, but they told him later he had misunderstood (Moving To … Texas?).  Yet God had taken us this far.

But the house was going to sell soon, right Lord?

keep commandmentsOne sunny April day in 2012 I got a call from a good friend in Oregon who stated there was a new couple at church that was moving back to Oregon from Arizona and needed a house to rent for at least a year.  My friend had told them about our home, and they had driven by and really liked it.  Would we be interested in renting?

We were a little apprehensive, but when we connected with them they were delightful.  They agreed to pay a monthly sum which came close to paying our house payment, plus they paid all utilities and cared for the landscaping!

We realized this was a double-answer to prayer.  They were helping us with our house mortgage, and we were helping them in moving to a new area.

Boom – a huge prayer answered!

This second answer to prayer happened not too long after that.

As we were watching the news, we heard that 4 tornadoes were forming in the Dallas area, and they were directly on path to head right toward us.  The news showed a large semi-truck being picked up and literally thrown to the ground not too far away, and yes, indeed, we were a little panicked as we’d never had to deal with tornadoes before!

We kept watching the news as they showed the tornadoes coming closer.  But then all of a sudden the weatherman said they had turned and were heading in a totally different direction!

A short time later we found out why.

god hearsMy same friend that I spoke about above called to check in with us later.  She said she had been meeting with another mutual friend, and suddenly they felt like they needed to start praying for us.  So they did.

I was so thankful that I posted that on Facebook, and I got a response from another friend who lives in Idaho.  She said she’d heard about the tornadoes in our area, and had felt led to start praying, as well!

Think what you want, prayer works.  I have no doubt in my mind that if my faithful friends hadn’t listened to the Lord and starting praying, that our house could have been one of the homes demolished by those tornadoes.

Psalm 10:12 (NIV) says, “Arise, Lord!  Lift up your hand, O God.  Do not forget the helpless.”

One of the lessons I learned through the testimonies of my praying friends is that when suddenly someone pops into my mind, I need to start praying for them!  No, you may not know what’s going on, but God hears your heart, and He may be using you to bring them help in what they’re going through.

But, Lord – Who Am I?

Do you ever feel like you’re not good enough for God to really use?

If you have times of feeling like that – take heart!  Today I want to talk about 2 great people who struggled with those same feelings, and how God used them in spite of it!

First let’s look at Moses.

Moses was left as an infant in a basket floating on the Nile River because Pharaoh put out a decree to kill all the Hebrew baby boys (Exodus 1:22).  He was soon found by one of Pharaoh’s daughters, and ended up being raised by the Egyptians (Exodus 2:1-10).

Yet Moses knew he was Hebrew, not Egyptian, and one day he got mad and took matters into his own hands by killing one of the Egyptians.  This didn’t turn out well, and Moses ran away to hide in the desert where he lived for many years.

But God had a plan for Moses.  He wanted to use him to free the Hebrews from the Egyptians’ bondage.

understand somedayWhen you get to Exodus 3, you find Moses tending flocks in the desert when he sees a bush burning.  He goes over, and God calls to him from the bush, telling him that He’s going to use Moses to free the Hebrews.  The excuses start:

“Who am I that I should do this?”  (Exodus 3:11)

“What should I tell them?”  (Exodus 3:13)

“What if they don’t believe me?”  (Exodus 4:1)

“But, Lord, I just don’t speak well…”  (Exodus 4:10)

Finally, God has had enough of his complaining, and tells Moses to get going, reminding him that He Himself created him.  However, in His mercy, He ends up sending Moses’ brother Aaron along with him (Exodus 4:11-17).

Well you know the rest of the story.  God uses Moses to free the Hebrews from their slavery through many miracles – including the parting of the Red Sea!

The second person I want to bring up is David Wilkerson.

David Wilkerson was a great preacher and evangelist of the Word of God.  He was the founding pastor of Times Square Church in New York City which grew into a mega-church said to be home to over 100 different nationalities.  He also founded the addiction recovery program, Teen Challenge, and wrote the book The Cross and the Switchblade about his work on the street with gang members.

Yet Wilkerson himself preached in his sermon “Who Told You You Are Unworthy?” that he never once felt worthy to be a preacher.  As a matter of fact, Wilkerson in his sermon told the story of one time when he was asked to preach at a big crusade in Los Angeles.  However on his flight to LA he started to really feel unsettled, remembering some hurtful words he had said to his wife before leaving, and as he stood up to preach he felt like the enemy was literally screaming in his head what a fake he was.

He finally had to close his Bible, stepped down from the podium, and went back home.  He told the Sister who had invited him to the crusade that he didn’t feel like he’d ever feel worthy enough to preach again.

He admits that he’d let the enemy succeed.  He had listened to his lies instead of believing the truths of his Father in heaven – his Father’s words of love and assurance.

miracleI know I have certainly felt unworthy at many moments in my life.  Often after leading Bible studies I would drive home in tears because I felt “just who do I think I am?”  I was listening to the lies of the enemy saying, “That was pathetic!  You’re no one!  Who do you think you are to be teaching the Bible to others?”

Oh we live in a constant battleground, no doubt.  1 Peter 5:8 (NLT) says,

“Stay alert!  Watch out for your great enemy, the devil.  He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.

My friends, the next time you start to feel inadequate in doing what you believe God has called you to do, step back!  Remember even Jesus Himself was pounded upon by Satan while on this earth.  That’s why it’s so important to put on the full armor or God which the Apostle Paul talks about in Ephesians 6:10-17.  Memorize some of your favorite Scripture verses, so that when those feelings of inadequacy come, you can defeat the enemy as Jesus did in the desert (Matthew 4:1-11) by quoting Scripture.

Our Father God wants to use each one of you to further His kingdom.  And you know what?  You are the perfect person for what God has planned!