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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Remember who God is

I taught a workshop in Midland, TX, last September. It wasn’t anything super spectacular, although the feedback I got confirmed that my explanation of plot structure was enlightening. But I remember standing up in front of a room full of authors and asking myself how I’d gotten there.

Yes, I’ve been writing for a long time. Yes, I’ve been a successful writer for many years. But I’m still learning. I learn something new about writing and storytelling and editing every day, and I feel like the least qualified person to stand up and teach a room of writers about plot structure.

Have you ever felt that way?

Like you’re the last person who should be teaching others? But the way life ended up working out taught you things that other people wanted to learn. That’s kind of how I feel about my teaching. Except I fully believe that life doesn’t just work out. Nothing about life is random, and the moments that feel random don’t last long because there’s a bigger story unfolding in the background.

Nothing happens to God’s children by accident (Isaiah 46:9-10). Everything He allows into our lives and our experiences is something He has already seen coming. That doesn’t mean He is the cause of the negativity and the badness we experience, but it does mean that He’s already seen the end of it and knows how to turn it into something beautiful.

Remember who God isGod is big enough to take the darkest moments of our life and change them into something that brings light to others. Sure, it stinks while we’re going through some of those tough moments, but if we can hold on to the truth of Who God is and what He does, we’ll thrive even in seasons of drought or fire or darkness.

God redeems. He takes broken things and makes them beautiful. He takes empty vessels and fills them with treasure. He takes someone with a collection of seemingly random experiences and makes them a expert that others seek out for knowledge.

Throughout the entire length and breadth of the Bible, that’s the story God tells. That’s the role He plays in the story—the Redeemer (Isaiah 48:17). The one who buys back the broken.

But He doesn’t stop there.

He could only buy back broken things, and He would be the greatest Hero in the universe. But He takes it a step further. He not only redeems. He restores. He takes those years you think you wasted and turns them into something that can help other people. He takes the never-ending time you spent waiting on something and makes it into valuable experience you can use in a career or a relationship. He uses the hurt and the pain and the scars you thought had no purpose to bless others.

He buys back the broken, yes, but He makes the broken beautiful too. That’s who God is. (Isaiah 61:3)

So if you’re in a dark season right now, remember who God is. If you’re waiting, embrace it and enjoy the season where you’re totally relying on God. If you’re hurting, recognize that God isn’t the one hurting you, and that He can turn your mourning into joyous dancing. If you’re struggling with a load that’s too heavy for you to bear, remember that God’s shoulders are wide enough to carry all your troubles.

Psalm 113:7-9Remember who God is. He honors the poor, He carries the weak, and He provides for those in need without reluctance or discrimination (Psalm 113:7-9).

Dark seasons don’t last forever, and when it’s over God will make beauty from the ashes. That’s a promise, and He always keeps His promises.

If I’m a winner, why do I live like a loser?

conquerors-warriors-winners-discouragement_1170x350

I can’t do anything right. I’m a failure at life. It’s not even worth trying something new because I’ll ultimately screw it up and let everyone down. Ever feel like that? I’ve had a month of feeling like that, which is utterly ridiculous because it’s been a great month. A successful month. A month full of positive momentum. Yet emotionally, spiritually, and mentally I’ve been stuck in this unending quagmire of discouragement.

God is gentle with people many times. He calls to us softly in that still, small voice of His. He beckons us closer to Him with promises of peace and assurances of unconditional love.

Well, I’m not people. And gentle promises and soft speeches rarely do anything for me except make me suspicious, and that’s probably a character flaw. But thankfully my God knows how to talk to me. He’s my Shepherd, and He knows how to get my attention. And usually it involves a two-by-four.

I was out on my morning walk yesterday, and I’d started the morning slow and draggy, uninspired, discouraged, beaten down for no real reason. I just felt mopey. But I’d decided to start walking in the mornings, so I got ready to go. To make matters worse, my MP3 player died for no reason, which put me in a bad mood. Walking my two miles was going to be harder without something to listen to.

So I just chalked it up to the kind of day I was going to have, and I started down our old loose-gravel road, struggling against a hard south wind. But because I didn’t have anything else to listen to, I just decided to tell God about all my problems.

The whole two miles, I just told Him what was on my heart and how sad I felt and alone and discouraged. Like nothing I do matters. Like nothing I try succeeds. And somewhere along that two-mile stretch, WHAM! This verse hit me like a ton of bricks:

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”

That’s Romans 8:37, if you care to know. And it echoed in my empty brain for about five minutes while I walked, stunned into silence. The realization that accompanied left me shaking. Because if I believe that, if I truly believe that God has made me more than a conqueror, I should be living like it. But I wasn’t. I was living as though I’d been defeated.

[su_pullquote align=”right”]Why would I choose to live defeated when I have the opportunity to live victorious?[/su_pullquote]

It’s so hard to see the light sometimes. It’s so hard to focus on everything that’s right, especially when you feel overwhelmed by everything that’s wrong. That’s when discouragement hits. That’s when it takes all your strength to pull yourself out of bed in the morning. That’s when you tell yourself that you can’t win, can’t succeed, can’t do anything right. You’re choosing to see all the obstacles in your path instead of the bright, shining path God has opened up for you.

I am a conqueror.

Not will be a conqueror. Not used to be a conqueror. I AM a conqueror. Not in my own strength or abilities or talents. Not by any gift or virtue I possess but through Jesus. God has made me a conqueror through His power. So why would I choose to live defeated when I have the opportunity to live victorious?

Maybe that bright shining path Jesus provided only stretches out for the current day, and I can’t see tomorrow. Isn’t that all right? Isn’t it enough to know that you have what you need for right now? It’s difficult to live that way. It’s hard for this control freak to wrap her brain around it, but there’s no better way to live.

Why be satisfied with the little shack you can build with your own hands when God wants to help you build a mansion?

Against all odds, God has provided for me today, and He has promised to provide for me tomorrow. Do I really need more than that? Do you?

No more choosing to see the obstacles. No more choosing to see what’s wrong. No, that doesn’t mean I ignore them, but I can acknowledge an obstacle without letting it discourage me. God has made me a conqueror. God has made me victorious. Through Him, I can do impossible things.

And so can you.

Don’t fight battles that aren’t meant for you

There is no discouragement quite like facing an impossible task, especially if you’re someone who’s used to getting things done. No matter what you do, no matter how hard you try, you just can’t make progress. The more work you do, the deeper into the hole you go. The more it feels like you accomplish, the more work appears to regenerate.

People talk about money pits. Well, projects can be time pits. Hope pits. Excitement pits. Where no matter how much energy and enthusiasm you pour into a project, it’s never satisfied, and you don’t have enough to keep investing in it. And pretty soon you feel like an empty shell because you’ve poured everything you are into the black hole of your aspirations, and you still haven’t accomplished anything.

Anybody been there? Anybody been at that moment where you just don’t care anymore? The irony is that you’ve convinced yourself that you haven’t accomplished anything, and that’s a complete lie. Because if you were thinking straight, you’d be able to see what you’ve done, and you’d be able to see how good it is. But when you get to that point, everything feels wrong and broken and not worth doing.

So what do you do? How do you handle discouragement on that level, when you can’t escape it and you’re not strong enough to fight it?

black-and-white-person-sport-competitionToday’s verses are Exodus 14:13-14.

But Moses told the people, “Don’t be afraid. Just stand still and watch the Lord rescue you today. The Egyptians you see today will never be seen again. The Lord himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.”

When I get discouraged, my first reaction is to work harder. If I have the time to feel sorry for myself, I must not be busy enough. Or if I’m feeling like I’m not accomplishing anything, I just need to get more done, and that will fix the problem. Neither of those reactions are helpful or even true. That’s usually why it’s important to have someone close to you around so they can remind you of the truth.

Even the biggest projects can be completed one step at a time. It’s just having the discipline to keep taking one step at a time over and over again until it’s finished. That’s the hard part. And on some days it can feel like all you’re doing is spinning your wheels, and in those moments, discouragement is always hovering close at hand.

But when you start feeling that way, just stop what you’re doing. If you’re discouraged and you keep plugging away at a project to make yourself feel better, just stop. It won’t help you.

If you’re facing a physical problem that’s keeping you from accomplishing your goals, that’s one thing. If you’re facing a financial problem, that’s something else. But discouragement is more than that. Discouragement is spiritual and emotional, and you can’t overcome discouragement by loading yourself down with more work.

When the Israelites were scared, God didn’t want them to do anything but trust Him. He wanted them to stand still and be calm, and He’d take care of the rest. And that’s the lesson I need to learn today.

I have a lot of challenges facing me. There are things I know how to handle. There are things I don’t. A lot of it I’m just making up as I go along. And if I think about it all too much, I get overwhelmed, because I know how little control I have over my own life. I’ve always known that I’m not in control, but this is the first time I’ve tried to embrace it. And it’s harder than I thought it would be, but once I let go, it’s not up to me anymore. Which is funny, because it was never up to me in the first place.

Too many times I try to fight battles I can’t win. I jump into the fray because I want to be useful. I want to help. I want to show God that He can trust me, that He can depend on me, and show Him that I’m willing to do whatever He asks me to do. But what if He’s just asking me to be still? Do I love Him enough to do that for Him? Do I love Him enough to step back when He asks me to? Do I love Him enough to slow down?

Maybe you’re facing an impossible task, and if that’s the case, great. God will help you achieve it, but you have to let God work. If it’s truly impossible, you can’t make it happen. So you have to take a seat and let God do His thing.

You may be watching God work, but God is working. Let Him. And then focus on what He is doing, what you get to be a part of. Once you see it from that perspective, it will be difficult to stay discouraged.

Praise God in the dark because He sees the light

When was the last time you told God how awesome He is? I mean, it’s easy to talk about how awesome God is when you’re around other people who think He’s awesome too. But there’s a big difference between joining into common conversation and initiating conversation with God.

Sure, we don’t have trouble asking Him for stuff when we need it. We can go before Him and fire request after request at Him, and He wants us to do that. But we need to remember who we’re talking to. We shouldn’t forget who God is.

sunset-summer-golden-hour-paul-filitchkinToday’s verse is Psalm 7:17.

I will thank the Lord because he is just;
    I will sing praise to the name of the Lord Most High.

Praise and worship can easily attract a lot of attention. It’s one of the parts of following Jesus that can get flashy and showy pretty quickly. Hand raising and shouting and praying out loud–if you’ve got a performance-based mentality, it can get out of hand fast. And pretty soon it’s about you instead of about God, so you’ve always got to guard your heart.

But when it comes to worship, I think Christ-followers are too guarded. We get more excited about sports events than we do about what God is doing, and that’s just as bad as trying to garner attention for ourselves.

Regardless, something none of us do enough is telling God that He’s great. Maybe I’m generalizing. So maybe I should just say that I don’t do it often enough. When I pray, most of the time I launch into the requests, but that’s not where I need to start. I need to start by telling God that He’s amazing. I need to tell Him how incredible His creation is, how abundant His blessings are, and how grateful I am that He gave me this life.

But maybe you’re not in that position right now. Maybe you aren’t loving life very much. Maybe you’re in a tight spot, and you just don’t see how you could possible praise God in your current circumstances.

Well, that’s what I love about this particular verse. It doesn’t say that we should thank God because of all the great things He’s done for us. It doesn’t say that we should thank God for being powerful or all-knowing or wise. Sure, He’s all those things, and, yes, He’s done great things for us (whether we realize it or not). But this verse says we should praise God because He’s just.

Even if you’re in a place in your life right now where you feel like nothing is going right, that’s one truth you can hold onto. God is just. God is good. The Bible says it over and over again, and even if you can’t be thankful for your life right now, you can still be thankful that God is just, fair, and right. Because that means if you keep doing what He says is right and keep trusting Him, eventually your circumstances will work out all right too. And that’s worthy of praise.

We don’t praise God enough. We’re too stuck in our own heads. We’re trapped in our own little worlds, unable to see past the darkness to the light on the other side. But God can see. So instead of wasting time complaining about your situation, take some purposeful time to praise God. Turn on some music. Take a walk outside. Look for miracles. I promise, they’re everywhere.

Be intentional in looking for reasons to praise God, and I promise you’ll find them. Praise God in the darkness because you know He sees the light, even if you can’t.

Beat the holiday blues before they get here

The holidays are fast approaching. Seems too soon to say it, but it’s true. On one hand, it’s exciting. Christmas is my favorite time of year. Sure the days are darker, and the weather is cold. But there are lights and decorations and presents and songs! But for some folks, that’s not enough to cheer them up. There’s a whole population of people who just can’t escape the winter blues.

A part of me understands that. Long cold stretches of time without sunlight can bring people down. Maybe you’ve lost a loved one. Maybe you lost a job. Maybe you can’t make Christmas what it was last year for whatever reason, and you just don’t see much to look forward to.

Well, this past weekend, I remembered something, and I thought I ought to pass it on.

The Christmas Tree at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

The Christmas Tree at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is 1 Corinthians 15:58.

So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.

When the days are long and cold or dark and dreary, it can be easy to feel like nothing you do is actually accomplishing anything. It might feel like you’re just spinning your wheels, or it might feel like you never see any results from all your investments.

How can you be cheerful about doing anything if everything feels useless?

The problem with that mentality is that it keeps you in one place. That attitude is a paralytic. If you let yourself feel that way, you’ll never try to do anything. You’ll never crawl out of your shell. You’ll never take a risk on anything or anyone.

So instead of sitting around thinking about everything that’s going wrong, get up and go do something. And I don’t mean busywork. The world is full of busywork. I mean do something for someone else. Make cookies for someone who’s having a bad day. Make soup for someone who’s sick. Go clean house for an exhausted mom. Send an encouraging email or a funny card to a friend.

Do something that takes your eyes off your own trouble, and you might be surprised how your trouble looks when you come back to it. No, it probably won’t have disappeared, but it won’t look so dark and dire.

There’s something about serving others that always brightens my mood. And the beauty about serving is that it’s not complicated. Just show up. Be available. Someone will put you to work, and if you do that work for God, He’ll bless it and you.

Don’t get out and do something just for the sake of doing it. Do it in Jesus’ name. Love others in Jesus’ name. Serve people in Jesus’ name. And when you get back to your life inside your little shell, you won’t be satisfied there any more, because you will have seen the great big world outside your walls and all the awesome things God is doing.

You may be in a dark place in your life right now. I get that. Everyone has been there. But you don’t have to stay there. And getting out of it for a little while might actually help you see your situation clearer.

So get off the couch, friends. Your situation won’t fix itself. God will take care of it, but that doesn’t mean you have to sit still the whole time.

Go find someone to be kind to. It will revolutionize the way you look at your own problems. And if you get into the habit of serving others now, you might even find that you miss the holiday blues entirely. The Christmas spirit might find you in spite of yourself.

Stress is my comfort zone

When you’re carrying a heavy bag, it’s a bad time to try climbing a mountain. Even if you’re in great shape, hauling a heavy backpack around when you’re trying to find good footholds and solid rocks to step on is difficult. It’s slow going. And it’s exhausting. So why do we expect mental stress to affect us differently?

I do. Because, I mean, I’m just thinking. Or I’m just organizing. Or I’m sorting through emotions and expectations and deadlines. It’s not “real” work, so it shouldn’t make me tired. It shouldn’t exhaust me. Well, that’s not true. Mental exhaustion is a real thing, and it’s something people need to take seriously (especially creatives… you know who you are).

I always end up there. Always. It doesn’t matter what job I’m working or where I’m living, eventually I end up in the place where I’m stressed out and exhausted and still pushing forward even though I’ve got nothing left. And frankly, I’m tired of it.

sky-ditch-eye-holeToday’s verse is Proverbs 12:25.

Worry weighs a person down;
    an encouraging word cheers a person up.

Anxiety is heavy. It weighs you down much more than you think, but it’s also one of those burdens that’s really difficult to drop. I don’t know why that is. My worry and my anxiety are the burdens I despise yet can’t seem to let go of.

My anxiety and my worry are actually the reasons why I end up over-stressed and over-worked, because I fall back into my same old habits of performing. Because if I perform above expectations, God will bless me above expectations. But I take it to the next level and run myself into the ground and then despair because my situation hasn’t changed. Some take that as a sign that God isn’t listening. I take it as a sign I’m not working hard enough.

So guess what I do? That’s right. I work even harder.

God is teaching me–yet again, seriously because this is the same lesson He’s been trying to teach me for 20 years–that I have convinced myself I need to feel stretched thin. I yearn for that stressed-out, busy feeling to make me feel like I’m accomplishing something, to help me feel like I’m doing something important. And that’s just foolish. God never intended for us to live that way. It’s not healthy, physically or mentally. And it’s not the best for us. Maybe we feel better, but it’s not actually better.

Stress is my comfort zone, my own personal ditch where I can fall down and stay put. And while I worry and fret until my hair turns gray and my insides twist all up, I convince myself that I’m doing good work. I must be. Because I’m so stressed out!

All my life I’ve been told God doesn’t want us in a comfort zone. He doesn’t want us comfortable. He wants us obedient. So those of us who are hiding in our stressed-out ruts, lying to ourselves and everyone else, we’re not doing what God says to do. God says get up. God says get out. And trust Him. Don’t just talk like you trust Him. Actually trust Him.

But I’m practical. It’s one thing to know you’ve got a problem. It’s something else to work out a way to solve it. That’s where those encouraging friends come in. If you haven’t got them, you need them. Go to church. Or go to a friend’s house, someone you know is close to God, and be brave enough to be honest about where you are. Because the longer you stay in your stress pit, the lower you’re going get. And the lower you get, the harder it is to climb out.

Listen to wisdom. Do wisdom. That’s one way you can tell the difference between wisdom and knowledge. Wisdom is active and real. It’s something you can take with you and use everyday. So don’t just hear words someone says to you. If they’re wise, listen and do it.

It’s not easy. But you don’t have to do it alone. You have a lot of people around you who love you. Maybe you don’t feel like it, but at times like that, don’t trust what you feel. Trust what you know. Ask for help. Then get up and do something about it. And don’t worry what people will think. People will always think something. The people who matter won’t care.

Make a list. Make a schedule. Decide what you’re going to do and do it and then stop. Find someone to keep you accountable if you have to. Just stop killing yourself to please God. That’s not what He wants. And you know that. Running yourself into the ground to please Him is only to make you feel better. It’s not for Him.

What God wants from you is faith. Faith that what He asks you to do is enough, regardless of how you feel about it.