Even if life turns upside-down

Ever been in one of those seasons in life where nothing feels stable? It’s like you’re trying to walk along the beach as the tide is rolling out, taking all the sand with it from under your feet. You aren’t sure where to stand because no ground is solid enough to support your weight. It’s an awkward dance, roaming the beach while the sand slides out from under you.

Welcome to my life

That’s sort of where life is for me right now. And it’s not just me. I know several people who are in similar predicaments. Life has thrown a curve ball they never expected. The job didn’t end up being a good fit. The job opportunity fell flat. People have passed away. New children have been born. New friendships are beginning, and some friendships are falling apart. New stories are starting, and others are ending.

Just about everyone I know is facing major transitions in their lives, and as I sit here this morning trying to knock out several thousand words on a novel, I’m tempted to despair. So much hurt and pain is happening right now. So many people are struggling with friendships and relationships and jobs and finances. People are scared and uncertain and feeling scattered. And I want to fix it. But I can’t. I can’t even fix my own problems. And some days it’s enough to make me want to give up.

I’m doing it wrong

That’s when I remember I’m doing this all wrong. In those moments I have to step back and remind myself who exactly is in charge here. It’s not me. And it’s not you either. None of us have the power to change much of anything in our lives, not without help. When we get to these points in life (and all of us do), we have to hold on to something. And the only anchor worth holding onto is God.

God doesn’t change (Malachi 3:6). He’s the same today as He was 10,000 years ago. He’ll be the same 10,000 years from now. Not like us. We change all the time, finding new and improved ways to identify ourselves or uncover value in ourselves. And because God doesn’t change, we can trust that He’ll always keep His promises (Numbers 23:19).

It’s okay to feel hurt

instagram upside-downSo life hasn’t turned out the way you thought it would. Join the club. Peoples’ lives rarely work out the way we expect them to. That’s not a reason to give up or stop believing that God can do something miraculous. That’s when God does His best work.

Maybe something you thought was certain fell apart, and you’re hurting. It’s okay to hurt. It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to not be okay. Nobody is okay, not really. As long as the world is broken and people are broken, “okay” is just a word we say to cover up what we’re actually feeling inside. But just because we’re not okay doesn’t mean God isn’t able. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

It doesn’t always help to remember that God’s got everything under control. Sometimes you’re just so hurt and so frightened and so unsure that you just need to feel sad, and I get that. And that’s okay too. But don’t make the mistake of thinking God doesn’t hear you, because He does. And don’t confuse His patience or His perfect timing for tardiness (2 Peter 3:9).

Nothing in life stays the same. Everything changes. Our dreams, our preferences, our stories, our families, our friendships. God is the only stable ground. He’s the only rock we can stand on that we can trust will stay put. (Psalm 18:2)

Our only hope

Life may be upside down for you right now. Or maybe you can see the chaos coming toward you like a tidal wave that threatens to sweep away the life you’ve built for yourself. Don’t assume God doesn’t know. He does, and He cares. And He’s your only hope.

Hebrews 6:18Knowing that God doesn’t change, that He always keeps His promises, that He offers hope to the hopeless, and that He is always good—maybe it won’t fix your troubles today. But maybe it’ll give you a different perspective on them. (Hebrews 6:13-19) Because it’s possible for life to be hard and good at the same time, just like you can be hurting and full of joy at the same time.

It all comes down to how you choose to see the trouble in your life. Yes, it can feel overwhelming, unfair, undeserved, and even malicious at times, but if that’s how you choose to see it, you’re missing the point. And you’re choosing to see God as an enemy who wants to hurt you, and nothing is further from the truth. (Jeremiah 29:11)

Breathe. Step back. Shut your eyes and listen to what God is telling you.

He’s got this. He’s got you, and all the little things (or big things) that you’re worrying about, He’s already figured out. And maybe He won’t give you a magic lamp and grant you three wishes. He won’t snap His fingers or wiggle His nose and solve all your problems. But you can be sure that however He chooses to act, it’ll be good, even if it doesn’t feel like it right away.

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Check that attitude, Donut Girl

I’m not a big donut eater. But I’m traveling. As you’re reading this post today, I’m on the road yet again, but this time I’m on the way home. The editing conference in Atlanta was absolutely wonderful, and I’ll be posting about it in more detail later on. But yesterday morning, as my friends and I were getting ready to go to church, we decided that we wanted donuts for breakfast.

And I figured it would serve as a reward for pretending to be an extrovert for almost an entire week. So I jumped in the car and drove down to the nearest donut shop. I won’t identify which one, but I can tell you they’re all over the place in this part of the world.

I went through the drive in and asked for chocolate-glazed donuts. Now, I don’t know if it’s a family thing or a cultural thing or a regional thing, but to me a chocolate-glazed donut was a chocolate-frosted donut. Apparently, that’s incorrect, because when the Donut Gal in the window showed me the box of donuts, I saw chocolate cake donuts with glaze on them. I realized my mistake immediately and apologized.

Well, Donut Girl heaved a heavy sigh, rolled her eyes, and stormed back to the donut case to replace the glazed donuts with the frosted ones. When she returned, she wouldn’t even look at me and initiated a conversation with the next person at the window behind me.

At first, I was really irritated, because that’s just rude.

Check that attitude donut girlYes, I was wrong and caused her some level of inconvenience, but I did apologize. And the least she could have done was acknowledge that I was sorry. But then, I thought about her. I mean, she’s working in a gas station donut shop. She probably doesn’t get tips. She may not even get paid well, And she works with the public. So I can understand some irritability.

It was mainly the attitude that irked me. I’ve never ordered donuts in a drive-thru before. I’m also not a normal customer of this particular donut chain. But if I were, I would be upset enough about this experience that I might not come back. Donut Girl has a responsibility to her employer to represent him to the public, and she did a poor job of that yesterday morning.

But you know what? I am Donut Girl.

People irritate me. They inconvenience me. They give me bad information and then act surprised when I deliver an incorrect product. And most of the time, my attitude stinks. I grumble and complain and roll my eyes. And while I don’t do that to their faces, doing it behind their backs is worse, because it’s evidence of what’s in my heart.

Donut Girl check your attitudeAnd I don’t represent a donut chain. I represent God (2 Corinthians 5:18-21). As Jesus-followers, God has given us a job to point the way to Him, to show people how to be reconciled with God Himself. That makes us God’s ambassadors–God’s representatives on Earth. And if I mistreat people, whether they’re wrong or not, that’s a poor representation of who God is and how He treats people.

So before I criticize Donut Girl for her attitude, I need to check my own.

How about you this morning? Are the petty details of life turning you into a grumbler? Do you let people’s faults (or perceived faults) get under your skin? Are you forgetting who you represent?

Don’t be like Donut Girl. Be like Jesus.

Burdens are too much to bear alone

Sometimes the burdens in life are just too much, you know what I mean? Life can be exhausting, discouraging, and just plain awful at times. And it seems to love getting your hopes up only to stand back and watch your plans turn to dust. How do you cope when life throws you curve balls like that?

Well, the Bible has a lot of answers for how to survive (and even thrive) in the midst of life’s dirty little tricks, but the one that first comes to mind for me is that Christ-followers are supposed to help carry each other’s burdens (Galatians 6:2). God doesn’t expect us to struggle through life on our own. He put us on this planet surrounded by other people so we wouldn’t be alone, especially when our lives turn upside down.

Share the load

Instagram Burdens are too muchEveryone has burdens. Maybe you don’t think you do, but you do. We’re born with them. Some of us are born with more than others, and as we grow older, we accumulate more and more with every passing day. Health problems. Family issues. Job trouble. Impossible deadlines. Crushed dreams. Crazy kids. Insane in-laws. Lazy spouse. Nagging wife. Whiny kids. Name the thing that’s causing all your gray hair today, and I can almost guarantee it’s something that would fit in the burden category of your life.

Not all our burdens look alike, but we all have them. And the simple truth about our burdens is that we were never meant to carry their weight alone. The weight of our worries and troubles and fears is too much for us to bear without help.

So why are you trying? Why do you feel guilty when you ask for help? Why do you feel shame when you realize you can’t do it by yourself? You shouldn’t. God didn’t make you a pack horse for emotional trauma. It’s not your job to haul all that hurt and fear around on your own strength. So knock it off. Ask for help. And don’t be afraid of accepting it either.

But accepting help—and even offering help—is one part of the process.

Hand it over together

But what do you do when your fellow Christ-followers are worn out and beaten down with their own cares? If that’s the case, my wonderful supportive friends, I have to tell you that you’re doing it wrong. And believe me, I’m talking to myself here too.

I’m a fixer. I like to give people answers and help them understand how and why things happen. I want to do something to help, and usually that starts with me trying to solve their problem for them. I take their problems on my own shoulders. I feel their anxiety and despair and fear. And somewhere in my frazzled brain, I tell myself I’m helping, because at least they don’t have to suffer alone.

But I’m only making it worse. By taking their problems on my own shoulders, I blind myself to my own purpose. I’m not there to help them carry their burden; I’m there to help them carry it to God.

Psalm 55:22 Give your burdens to the LordGod didn’t make us to spend our days worrying and fretting over everything that’s wrong or everything that will go wrong. That’s not the way He wants us to live. And even though we’re supposed to help each other carry our burdens, we’re still not supposed to carry them in our own strength (Psalm 55:22).

God has promised to give us strength, to uphold us and sustain us. His power is right at our fingertips, free for the asking, yet we still convince ourselves that our troubles and worries are our own problems. And that’s not true.

God cares

He knows what you’re going through and how scared, uncertain, insecure you are. He understands that you feel like you’ll never measure up. And He gets that you’re afraid to ask for help because you don’t want to seem weak. But if you care for someone, it doesn’t matter what they need or how many times they need it.

God cares about you (1 Peter 5:7), and He is standing ready to help you carry all those things that are weighing you down.

Give your burdens to the Lord, and you Christians who are helping your brothers and sisters carry their burdens, remember that you’re supposed to be carrying them to God—not shouldering the load yourself.

Even Jesus needed a vacation

I don’t know how to rest. It’s not something that comes naturally to me, so the last thing on my mind is taking time off. But people weren’t made to run 24/7, despite what we tell ourselves.

As you read this post this morning, I’m heading home from a week-long vacation in Estes Park, thanks to some very dear friends who let me stay in their wonderful little cabin. I needed rest so desperately.

Rest looks different for each person. Some people need activity and socializing. Others need structure. For me, rest involved not talking, not wearing real pants, and watching cooking shows and nerdy movies for a week. After about three full days of that, I felt a bit more human. (If you’re an introvert, you totally get this.)

Everybody needs to rest. Everyone needs to take intentional time to refocus and refresh and restore themselves, and for a Christ-follower that means spending some real one-on-one time with Jesus (you know, in between cooking shows).

Even Jesus had to rest. So how did He do it? That’s what I asked myself as I started off on this journey. How did Jesus rest? And I thought I’d pass along what I learned from Jesus.

Jesus got away from the crazy

Matthew 8:18Jesus was the most popular guy in every town He visited. Crowds flocked around Him to hear Him speak, to be healed, to see Him. Can you imagine being surrounded by thousands upon thousands of people every moment of every day? I would self-destruct.

When Jesus got tired (because He did), He made time to separate Himself from the noise and chaos of the crowds. He got away. (Matthew 8:18)

Jesus spent time with God

Does that mess with your head? Yes, Jesus spent time with Father God, even though Jesus Himself is God. Don’t try to make sense of it. It’s not something our puny brains can understand. Just realize that Jesus took time (frequently, according to Scriptures) to talk to God, to be quiet with God, to listen to God. So we probably should too. (Luke 5:15-16)

Jesus connected with His inner circle

Jesus had best friends. He loves everyone, and He loved all His disciples, obviously. But there were three (some people believe four) guys who He just enjoyed spending time with—Peter, James, and John. And when Jesus was seeking God’s will and needing support, He turned to those three men. (Matthew 17:1Matthew 26:36-38)

You may be an introvert who needs your space, but that doesn’t mean you should become a recluse. God puts people in your life for a reason. Granted, that doesn’t mean you are required to spend every waking moment with those people, but you shouldn’t cut yourself off from human contact. God didn’t create us to be alone.

Jesus took care of Himself

This is one of the funniest moments in the Bible for me. Can’t you just imagine the storm? The disciples were just minding their own business when a massive storm kicked up on the Sea of Galilee, and they all freaked out. They went running to Jesus, and they found Him asleep. (Mark 4:38)

Dude, Jesus must sleep like I do. When I’m out, there’s not much that can wake me up.

The point?

Jesus was intentional about resting, so why aren't we?Jesus took intentional steps to rest. He made it a priority because He was human too, just like us. So if Jesus was intentional about rest, why aren’t we? Do we think we can do more than Jesus?

Sure, this week has been great, but I can’t just drop everything and run away to the mountains for an entire week whenever I want. You probably can’t either. So that means I need to learn how to integrate these strategies into my daily life. That means I need to start seeing myself and my goals from a more realistic perspective.

Rest is something we all need, so it’s something we can be intentional about. I don’t know about you, but I’m taking steps to make sure I rest. That way, I can always be at my best, and I can always be available to do what God has called me to do.

To make the road obvious

I have no sense of direction on road trips or in buildings or anywhere. Even if the sun is visible and someone tells me which direction I’m going, I can’t tell you which way I’m heading without careful contemplation. So as you can imagine, Google Maps is my friend, and that has special meaning this morning.

As you’re reading this, I’m driving by myself to Estes Park. My best friend got married this past weekend, and now I’m heading out on a week-long sabbatical of sorts. I’ve been this way before, though, so there’s not much chance that I’ll get lost.

I’m stepping back from normal life for a little while, taking a road trip with Jesus, because it’s time for me to take a good, long look at life, the universe, and everything.

At some points in our lives, I think it’s a good idea to reevaluate the decisions we’ve made, to make sure that we’re still heading in the direction God wants. It’s the same reason you carry a compass when you go hiking.

God asks us to follow Him, but if we don’t stop sometimes to make sure we’re still on the right path, we run the risk of wandering off.

My life verse has always been Proverbs 3:5-6, and I’ve always found it to be true. I can make my own plans as much as I want, but ultimately God is the one in control of my life. How foolish would I be if I tried to do things my own way?

But I do. Often.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Proverbs 3:5-6That’s why I have my compass, Proverbs 3:5-6 — Trust God, even when life doesn’t make sense, and He’ll make your path obvious.

A few other versions of the Bible translate verse 6 to be: “he will make your paths straight.”

But I think I love the Amplified version the best:

In all your ways know and acknowledge and recognize Him, and He will make your paths straight and smooth [removing obstacles that block your way].

How awesome is that?

That’s the kind of awesome I need in my crazy, confused, stressful life, to know for sure that the direction I’m walking is the one God wants for me. That’s the sweet spot, where I want to live.

So that’s what this week is about. Refocusing. Getting centered on God’s Word again. Making sure that I’m following Jesus’ road the way I’m supposed to, not trusting my own interpretation of life, but instead trusting His.

That’s the hard part, because I like to make sense of life. I like to fit the scattered pieces of life into a neat portrait, like a jigsaw puzzle coming together. But life can’t make sense without Jesus. It’s hard enough to make sense of it with Him, I wouldn’t even want to try without Him.

Life can't make sense without Jesus. - A.C. WilliamsSo in those moments where you need to check your directions, remember your compass. Remember that trusting your own understanding won’t help you conquer the trouble life throws at you. Instead, trust what God says. Do what God says. And keep your eyes peeled for the road God wants you on, because as long as you’re relying on His directions, the road you’re supposed to be walking will become obvious.

That’s a promise.

Faith and common sense work together

Have you ever sat in a chair that couldn’t hold your weight? There’s nothing like that terror as the legs wobble beneath you, and you freeze, paralyzed with uncertainty, because if you move at all, it might collapse and hurt you. At the very least, you’ll look like an idiot. My friends, welcome to faith.

That’s an encouraging thought, right? Faith is like a cheap plastic chair that you aren’t sure will hold your weight until you sit in it. That’s what it feels like sometimes, and honestly there is some truth to that concept.

If you rest your whole weight on a chair that’s too flimsy to support you, it’ll collapse beneath you. That’s just the way gravity works. That’s also the way cheap plastic works too. And to a certain extent, you won’t know if it will hold you until you try sitting in it.

God doesn’t ask for blind faith

Yes, sitting in a plastic chair takes faith. But faith doesn’t have to be blind, and anyone who tells you differently doesn’t really know what he believes in.

Do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit.... There are many false prophets in the world. - 1 John 4:1Personally, I know there’s a lot of me to hold up, so I usually test a chair before I sit in it.

That’s not a lack of faith. That’s just common sense.

And I think that’s where a lot of folks gets confused, because faith and common sense don’t have to be at odds with each other.

Even the Bible says that we’re supposed to think about what we believe and why we believe it (1 John 4:1). Jesus never commanded us to turn our brains off. In fact, He said the opposite. (1 Peter 5:8)

Now, does that mean we’ll understand everything?

Instead of answering, let me ask another question. Do you understand everything anyway?

Faith isn’t an exclusively religious concept. Everyone has faith in some form or another, whether we’re talking about relationships or job positions or the integrity of a plastic chair’s design.

Most of the important questions of life can’t be answered without faith. Granted, maybe your faith is in science, but science can’t explain everything either, which is why some supposed sciences are accepted on faith. (And if you’ve been paying attention to the scientific community over the years, you’d notice that science continually proves the Bible is true. But that’s another blog post.)

The point is, you don’t have to sacrifice common sense to have faith.

You don't have to sacrifice common sense to have faith. - A.C. WilliamsIf a cheap plastic chair doesn’t look like it’s going to support you, don’t sit in it. If a pastor on YouTube is promising success and prosperity if you donate to his organization, you don’t have to do it if you don’t think he’s on the level. If a charity demonstrates a lack of ability to monitor their accounting, you aren’t required by faith to give your money to them.

Don’t turn your brain off. God doesn’t ask you to be blind. He’s gone to painstaking lengths to prove who He is through His Word and through the experiences of people who’ve followed Him.

So ask Him questions. Ask His followers questions. Examine Him. Get to know who He is for yourself, not just the picture that other people paint. He’s waiting for you.

Try it His way and see what happens. You might be surprise how common-sensical following Jesus actually is.

Truth hurts enough without our help

I never wore expensive clothes when I worked at the library at Wichita State University. It wasn’t that we were unprofessional. I always looked nice. But we worked with ink daily, and no matter how hard you tried, you always ended up covered in it. So there was no point to spend money on expensive clothes when you were only going to ruin them.

It never failed. I’d help a patron at the desk, and then I’d catch a glimpse of myself in a mirror. Smack dab on the tip of my nose would be a big smudge of ink. The person I was helping could have told me at any time. I wouldn’t have been offended. I would have been grateful. But people don’t like to speak up in those situations because they’re afraid of hurting your feelings or making you feel inferior in some way.

Telling people an uncomfortable truth is never fun, and it’s rarely easy. But truth, unpopular or not, should never be intentionally hurtful. Truth hurts enough by itself; it doesn’t need us to make it worse.

Everyone knows the verse about speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). We quote it back and forth to each other all the time, but is it even possible to do?

I’m not an expert. But one thing I’ve learned about confronting someone with Truth is that your motivation matters.

I have known Christ-followers who have beaten me half to death, using Truth as a sledgehammer to pound me into submission. And on the other hand, I’ve known Christians who are willing to overlook the worst sins just to make me feel better about myself. Where’s the middle ground? Can you speak uncompromising Truth without doing lasting damage?

Well, what about the ink incident at the library? Why would you tell me that I had ink on my nose? To make me feel bad or to help me not look like a moron?

If your desire is to help me, you aren’t going to address me with self-righteous bravado. You aren’t going to insult me as you point out the ink on my nose. No, you’ll gently mention to me that I’ve got ink on my nose. And you might even relate a story about when something similar happened to you.

Gentle. Kind. Humble. And still true.

Confronting someone with Truth should never be about you (Philippians 2:3). It shouldn’t be about promoting yourself as an example to follow, and it should never be intended to humiliate them. Even if you’re talking to another Christ-follower, if the language you use doesn’t build them up or encourage them (Ephesians 4:29, Colossians 4:6), you aren’t drawing them back to God. Instead, you’re forcing them away.

Maybe what you’re saying is absolutely true. But if the truth you’re speaking is mixed up with cruel judgments, baseless assumptions, and biting sarcasm, you aren’t being kind. You’re being mean.

God expects us to live justly, yes (Micah 6:8-9), but we’re also supposed to love mercy and walk humbly. That means you look for opportunities to extend grace to people. It doesn’t mean you can compromise what God says is right, but it also doesn’t justify being mean-spirited.

That’s how you speak truth in love. It starts with your attitude toward God and your perspective on yourself. Before you confront anyone, before you take God’s Truth into battle, get those two things on the level. Make sure you and God are on the same page. Otherwise, it’s not about Him. It’s about you.

Any time you make life about yourself, you don’t leave any room for God to work.

But if you make it about Him, He’ll work it out. He’ll bring beauty from ashes. He’ll redeem what you forfeited. But you have to leave it in His hands first.