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.

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.

Stop seeing your weakness as a failure

The yard at Safe Haven Farm is a mess this morning. It’s so bad we can’t even use the normal back porch door. Instead, we have to come and go through the front door (this is the country; nobody uses the front door). What’s happening? We’re having a new patio installed!

We’re so excited to finally be losing the narrow old porch steps. They were always a tripping hazard, and in the winter time it was even more dangerous. When the new patio is done, we’ll have nice wide steps, a nice wide porch, and a nice patio and curving sidewalk to the driveway. It’ll be beautiful! … But it’s not beautiful right now.

That’s an important lesson about life I need to learn over and over again. When you’re trying to achieve a goal, it won’t happen overnight. It takes time, and usually you have to get your hands dirt. And sometimes cleaning up a mess means you have to make a bigger mess first.

Tearing up the sidewalk at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Tearing up the sidewalk at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are 2 Corinthians 12:9-10.

Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Following Jesus sounds backwards. Ask an average person off the street if their goal is to be weak, and they’ll probably look at you funny, especially in America. Especially in the Midwest. Around these parts, weakness isn’t something to be celebrated. It’s something to get over.

A storm blows your house down? That stinks. You just build it again. You lose your crop of wheat or corn? Tough potato chips. You get through it and plant against next season. It’s not common to rejoice when things go wrong. It’s not normal to celebrate when you aren’t strong enough to accomplish something on your own.

I struggle with this concept because I don’t like asking for help. Actually, I hate it. I run from store employees before they can ask if I need help finding something. I don’t need help. I can do it myself. I don’t like admitting that I’m incapable of anything. I never have.

So when I run into a problem, I want to fix it immediately. I want to snap my fingers and make it go away, like I think I’m Mary Poppins. But life doesn’t work that way. And neither does following Jesus.

Frankly, when you choose to follow Jesus, you don’t get any stronger. Actually, you learn that it’s okay to be weak, because that’s how you have access to His strength. And His strength is perfect. But when you want to fix things, when you want things your way, on your timetable, it’s hard to back off and let Jesus take over.

Following Jesus is messy business because the world is broken. It’s messier still because I’m messy, and Jesus is still working on me. I’m so thankful Jesus loves messy people, because my life is untangling a strand of Christmas lights. There’s no “easy” solution. You can’t just shake all the knots out. You have to pick the knots apart one at a time, and most of the time it looks like you’re making a worse mess than you had before. But once everything is laid out for Jesus to see, He’ll show you what needs to stay in your life and what needs to go. Then, you can start putting the pieces back together. And you’ll be better for it.

You can’t do it by yourself. You aren’t strong enough. And you know what? It’s okay to not be strong enough. In fact, that’s something to celebrate.

So let’s stop seeing our weakness as failure. Let’s stop seeing our messes as nightmares. And let’s accept them for what they really–growing pains. With Jesus’ help, we’ll get through it, and we’ll be better for it on the other side.

Why should we have confidence in God?

When I first started writing, I wasn’t very confident. I could write anything, but I had no faith that it was any good. Then, one day, I got brave enough to share it with a friend, and thanks to her positive feedback and encouragement, I kept writing. And I kept sharing it with friends, who also responded positively. But even then, I wasn’t what I would call confident.

It took years of writing (and a whole heck of a lot of rejection notices) before I started seeing my writing as something worthwhile. But the confidence didn’t come until I got hired on as a copywriter, where the people I worked with acknowledged that I could write. That sounds weird, maybe, because of course I can write. But it’s one thing to write for fun; it’s something else for people to pay for what you write.

I had to write for pay for three years before I truly began to feel confident in what I could do, and after that? After I figured out the confidence thing, writing was no problem. I can pick up a piece of paper and knock out a story in an hour. I can write a novel in a month or less. Maybe they won’t be very good, but that doesn’t bother me anymore. I know I can do it.

That’s where confidence comes from. You have confidence because you know for sure that your abilities (or the abilities of the one you’re relying on) are enough.

man-person-fog-mist_1516x1011Today’s verse are Psalm 27:11-14.

Teach me how to live, O LORD.
Lead me along the right path,
for my enemies are waiting for me.
Do not let me fall into their hands.
For they accuse me of things I’ve never done;
with every breath they threaten me with violence.
Yet I am confident I will see the LORD’s goodness
while I am here in the land of the living.
Wait patiently for the LORD.
Be brave and courageous.
Yes, wait patiently for the LORD.

So when was the last time you had confidence in the Lord? I mean, it’s easy to have confidence in your own abilities. You can control those. You can see the results almost immediately. But confidence in God? God doesn’t always work the way I want Him to. Actually, He rarely does. How can I have confidence in God if He doesn’t work according to my timetable?

That’s a tough question because it touches on deeper issues than just having confidence in God. A question like that means your own schedule matters more to you than God’s plan. Just being honest here.

What it comes down to is who God is. If confidence stems from someone’s abilities, how can we not have confidence in God? God is God. He’s the Creator, the Maker, the Redeemer, the Father, the Lover, the Master, the Lord. He can do anything and everything. He can be anywhere and everywhere, whenever, wherever, and however He chooses.

So the question isn’t how we can have confidence in God. The question is why should we.

God is good. Truly good. He’s the only one who actually is good. So everything He does is good. Don’t get the brokenness of the world or the brokenness in our own lives mixed up. People question God’s goodness because bad things happen, but bad things happen because the world is circling the drain as a result of our own choices. It’s not because God isn’t good. God is so good that He offers us a way out when we don’t deserve it.

God always keeps His promises. His plans are for our best. He never makes mistakes. That’s the kind of person you can be confident in, because He won’t ever do anything that isn’t for our best. That’s what you can have confidence in. That’s why you can trust Him.

No, you may not always like the roads He takes you on, but those are the times that make you stronger. Those are the moments that teach you who God is. And when the struggle is over, you’ll have more confidence than ever in how much He loves you, because you’ve seen it firsthand.

Don’t rush learning how to follow Jesus

I’m not a patient person. I’m like the least patient person you’ll ever meet. That’s why I marathon television shows. That’s why I rarely read books series until they’re complete. I don’t like waiting for stories to resolve. I want to know what happens right away.

Unfortunately that lack of patience seeps into other areas of my life. It’s one of the reasons why I didn’t do well in music lessons. My mom is a crazy accomplished classical musician, but she didn’t get there overnight. It took 45 years for her to get to that place. I wanted to pick up a musical instrument and be perfect right away. I didn’t want to work at it. I didn’t want to make mistakes and have to learn from them. I wanted the benefit of the skill without the drudgery of the discipline required to achieve it.

Sound familiar to anyone? We all have our sticking points when it comes to patience and discipline. Ironically, I had to learn that I had a lot to learn, regardless of what career path I chose. I settled on writing because I thought I was a great writer when I was little.

Yeah. Wow. Looking back, I knew nothing. And all I’ve learned in 25 years of writing (yes, I wrote my first story in kindergarten) is that I still know nothing, and that I have a lot more to learn. I’ve learned that I’ll never stop learning. But learning isn’t about filling your head with information. I mean, that’s part of it. The greater part of learning is patience. It’s hard work to learn. It’s trying and difficult, but the more you work at it, the stronger you get.

S059QDGBOG_1549x1037Today’s verses are Hebrews 10:32-36.

Think back on those early days when you first learned about Christ. Remember how you remained faithful even though it meant terrible suffering. Sometimes you were exposed to public ridicule and were beaten, and sometimes you helped others who were suffering the same things. You suffered along with those who were thrown into jail, and when all you owned was taken from you, you accepted it with joy. You knew there were better things waiting for you that will last forever. So do not throw away this confident trust in the Lord. Remember the great reward it brings you! Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised.

Following Jesus takes discipline. Sorry to burst the bubbles of anyone who signed on expecting an easy ride. Think of following Jesus like two magnets with opposite poles being pressed together. On one side, you’re drawn to Him because you belong to Him, but on the other side you’re repelled because you still have a dark nature that wants your own way. You have to fight yourself every step of the way if you want to follow Jesus.

And then add in the trouble our enemy throws at us. We have an enemy who hates us because Jesus loves us, and our enemy will do everything in his power to distract us, stop us, hurt us, discourage us, and slow us down. But instead of seeing all those obstacles as barriers to following Jesus, try to see them as opportunities to grow.

Don’t rush following Jesus. Enjoy it. It takes time. It takes years. Learn to see the trouble as opportunities for God to show His power. Learn to see people as family members who just don’t know Jesus yet. But the more you seize opportunities to follow Jesus, the stronger you’ll become.

Jesus says to love your enemies. That’s not easy, but that’s part of following Him. You won’t want to do it, and Satan won’t want you to either. But Jesus says it, so we do it. Loving an enemy is an obstacle because they don’t want your love, but if you treat it as an opportunity, your faith will grow. Every time you extend love or kindness or forgiveness to someone who wants to hurt you (and you get nothing in return), it demonstrates to everyone around you and even to yourself that what Jesus says matters more to you than what is commonly or popularly accepted. And God blesses an attitude like that.

 

Living a victorious life in spite of a broken world

Ever have one of those days (or weeks or months or years) where it just feels like everyone and everything is out to get you? It’s not enough to have one problem. No, you have to have 12 all hit at the same time. Money problems and job problems and family problems and relationship problems and church problems and the list goes on and on and on. It’s different for every Christ-follower, but the story is the same.

In situations like that, it always makes me wonder if I’ve done something wrong. I never want to assume that I’m in the right, especially where my relationship with God is concerned. I always want to ask myself and judge my own heart to make sure I haven’t gone against the Lord in some way that He needs to correct. I never want to be so proud that I miss what He’s trying to teach me.

But what about when I haven’t done anything wrong? Sometimes life just stinks. The world is broken, and sometimes that brokenness affects my life, which has been redeemed but still exists as part of a fallen world. When that happens, what do we do?

gazing-rain-window_1555x1037Today’s verses are 2 Corinthians 4:7-9.

We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed.

It’s easy to get discouraged when you think about the state of our world, but we need to remember that this world isn’t our home. And even though we live here for now, that doesn’t mean we live here alone or that we’re helpless.

Every Christ-follower has power. We can face life with hope and strength and courage because God is walking this path with us, and if we rely on Him, He’ll give us what we need to get through the day.

So even in our darkest moments, when we’re surrounded by trouble, when we’re confused by circumstances, when people are out to get us, or even when we fall flat on our face, we can still live a victorious life. We don’t have to give in to the petty, grasping arguments and disagreements of the people around us. We don’t have to hurt each other. We have the power to choose love. We have the power to be like Jesus, and Jesus is undefeated.

If you’re down today, choose to get up again. And if you don’t have the strength to get up, ask for it. You’re not alone.