God sees you when you’re struggling

I climbed a Scottish mountain yesterday. It was pretty exciting. Our little crew of international travelers walked up this really steep path to get to this ancient rock, which marked the place where the Clan MacLaren used to rally in older times.

It was a difficult climb. It was raining. And not just raining. Pelting. So loud and hard you can actually hear it on our videos that we’ve taken. A ridiculous amount of rain, especially for a bunch of Kansans.

The mud was thick and threatened to swallow us up. The rocks were few and far between, and the loam wasn’t very good at providing good places to grip.

But we made it to the top, and it was worth the trek. The view was beautiful, and we could say that we accomplished something incredible.

The muddy path to Creag an Tuirc, Balquhidder, Scotland

The muddy path to Creag an Tuirc, Balquhidder, Scotland

Today’s verses are Revelation 2:2-3.

I know all the things you do. I have seen your hard work and your patient endurance. I know you don’t tolerate evil people. You have examined the claims of those who say they are apostles but are not. You have discovered they are liars. You have patiently suffered for me without quitting.

It’s easy to give up when times get tough. It’s easy to walk away from a challenge, especially when you don’t feel up for it or when you’ve convinced yourself you aren’t capable. And when you think God isn’t paying attention, it’s even easier to walk away from a time of struggle.

But here’s news for you, friends. God is watching. All the time.

He sees when you struggle. He sees when you falter. He sees when you need help, and He cares. He’s not ignoring you. He’s watching you every step of the way.

Maybe that doesn’t comfort you, but it comforts me that God cares enough to watch what I’m doing. And He cared enough to intervene when it gets to be too much for me, which is always.

What are you struggling through this morning? What impossible task are you facing? Don’t give up. It will get harder before it gets better, you can almost count on that, but just because the situation is tough right now doesn’t mean that God isn’t with you.

So hold on. Keep climbing. Because the view from the top is worth the trouble it took to get there.

Everybody feels like giving up

What are you dealing with today that makes you just want to give up? Is it a relationship? Or a job? Maybe a dream?

If you’re in that place today, don’t think you’re alone. Everyone ends up there at some point in their lives. Even the most optimistic person in the world has a day when they just can’t take it anymore.

And there’s something God taught me yesterday as I was thinking about pushing through the tough times that I thought I’d better share. What’s even cooler is that it’s a lesson I learned from Christmas.

1149769_48728710Today’s verses are Romans 12:2-3.

We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up.

As in everything else, Jesus should be the example we follow. He’s the One we should pattern our lives after, and He never gave up. Not even when he faced agony and disappointment and abandonment. Because He knew what was coming, He had the strength to keep going.

God made you with a purpose. He has a plan for you. Maybe you can’t see it right now, but it’s real. God started it, and He won’t stop finishing it until it’s done. That’s a promise. But our enemy does love to throw darts of discouragement at us, and when life is so busy and so crazy and so broken, it’s so easy to give in. It sounds so much easier just to give up.

And in those moments, it’s tempting to think that Jesus’ example doesn’t fit. Because He was God. And you’re not. I mean, after all, you’re just a regular person. You’re not a superhero. You can only take so much.  Right?

Well, let’s talk about the Christmas story, because, yes, Jesus was involved, but the major players were all 100% human. No superheroes present.

Who better to start with than Mary? A young woman. Pregnant by the Holy Spirit. Yeah, imagine life for her in the first century. You think you’ve got it rough? Mary could have been killed. The Law actually would have allowed for her to be stoned to death because no one would have believed she was a virgin and had still conceived a child. Life sucked for Mary, but if she hadn’t stuck it out, Jesus wouldn’t have been born.

What about Joseph? Mary’s husband. Before they were married, Joseph had to deal with the rumors and the whispers and the gossip that his fiancée had been unfaithful. And those whispers probably followed him for the rest of his life. Put yourself in his shoes. God asked him to be the earthly father of the Messiah, but Joseph would never get any credit. Not really. He’s the forgotten figure in your manger scene. He’s just Joseph. How awful is that?

What about the shepherds in the fields? Sure a bunch of angels popped up and told them the Savior had been born, but the angels didn’t give them a lift. The shepherd had to go searching Bethlehem, going from stable to stable until they found the one with a baby in it.

And the wise men? Gosh, I don’t think anyone really thinks about what the wise men had to go through to find Jesus. They’re always pictured in the manger scene with the shepherds, but they didn’t actually arrive until much later. And they had to do tremendous study to figure out when and where Jesus would be born. And then they had to travel for miles and miles and miles and miles…. you get the idea.

Here’s the deal, friends. Life is hard for everyone. Certainly some have it worse than others, and we shouldn’t ignore that fact. But just because you’re tempted to give up today doesn’t mean you’re the only one who’s ever felt that way. You’re not a horrible person. You’re not a bad Christian. You’re just human, and you’re stressed out and pulled in too many directions at once.

So here’s what you need to remember: Even if you feel like giving up, even if you think nothing is going to change, even if you can’t see an end to the difficult road you’re on, don’t give up.

Giving up is easy. Like the innkeeper when Mary and Joseph needed a place to stay. He didn’t even try to help them. Maybe life had just gotten in the way. Maybe he was having a tough time. But instead of trying to help a young couple in need, he just gave up and sent them away. And he could have been the one to be there when Jesus Christ was born. Think of what he missed out on because he gave up.

That thing you don’t think you can do? Ask God for help and try it anyway. That job you think is too much for you? Ask God for help and give it your best. That goal you think you’ll never achieve? Ask God for help and shoot for the stars.

Everybody feels like giving up eventually, but giving up is a choice. And with God’s help, you don’t have to choose it.

Booker the Basset Hound looking down the trail on the hike at Helen Hunt Falls, Colorado Springs, CO

What I learned from a basset hound on a mountain hike

Have you ever faced a challenge you were sure would defeat you? Have you ever started a task and understood a few minutes into it that you’d never finish it? Life seems to be full of experiences like that, those moments when the mountain in your path seems too high to climb and too wide to go around.

If you’ve been there (or if you’re there now), you’re not alone.

So this morning, I want to tell you a story about Booker the Basset Hound. I met Booker on a mountain hike in Colorado over Memorial Day weekend. We’d found a pleasant hiking area in Cheyenne Canyon called Helen Hunt Falls, and we decided to go for a walk.

Well, on the way up, we’d passed a family with an adorable basset hound who was just having the time of his life. And he amazed me because he was climbing steep steps and leaping on tall rocks and making really great time. He wasn’t intimidated. He wasn’t scared. Sure he looked awkward and silly teetering like an overweight slinky up the worn wood steps, but he was having the time of his life. And when his family started to take him back down, he decided he wanted to keep going. And he ended up dragging one of the kids walking him up to the top of the mountain trail.

And, as funny as this may sound, I identified with that silly basset hound. Yes, the awkwardness and lack of coordination too, but mainly that desire to do more, to be more, to see more, to achieve greater things than I should be physically capable.

When you dream big, you face big obstacles. Even if you don’t dream big, you’ll still face challenges in life that are too big for you to tackle on your own. And in those moments, you’ll be tempted to just stop trying.

Booker the Basset Hound looking down the trail on the hike at Helen Hunt Falls, Colorado Springs, CO

Booker the Basset Hound looking down the trail on the hike at Helen Hunt Falls, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verse is Galatians 6:9.

So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.

We face so many difficult circumstances in our lives, some more than others, but in general we all will encounter resistance every day. Even more so if we are followers of Christ.

And doing the right thing is hard. Making the right choice over and over and over again with no guarantee of success or victory or advancement is excruciating. And giving up sounds so nice, so restful, so relaxing.

But believe me giving up is anything but that. Because you’ll always be tormented by “what if.” What if you hadn’t given up? What if you hadn’t stopped trying? What if you hadn’t turned around?

You might have made it to the top of the mountain. It might have been just around the corner. It might have made all the trouble worth it.

The thing about God-given dreams, they have to happen when God is ready for them to happen. Our plans are no different. We can lay our lives out carefully and specifically, but if God isn’t ready for our plans to work out, they won’t. The time has to be right.

We just don’t know when that time is. So we have to keep moving forward until that time gets here. And if we’re paying attention, if we jump when He says jump, we’ll experience the joy of a dream fulfilled.

So what challenge are you facing today? Do you feel like poor Booker, trying to climb a mountain with short stubby little legs (and obnoxious tourists with cameras who keep taking his photograph)? It’s tempting to give up, but in those moments, you have to remember what you’re climbing toward. You have to remember why you’re doing what you’re doing, why you’re striving to achieve your goal, why you’re working to make your dream come true.

Life is hard, but don’t give up because the view is worth the climb. Don’t let the struggles you’re going through make you forget why you’re climbing.

Getting out of safe mode

How many times have you tried to open a program on your computer and discovered that something was wrong with it? When that happens, sometimes you get the option to start a program in safe mode. Starting a program in safe mode means that it still functions but some of its options are disabled, allowing you to get your work done without jeopardizing your content. So it works, only with decreased functionality.

Anyone ever get there in life? After a good long text chat with my best friend yesterday, I realized that I’m there now. I’m functioning. I’m working. I’m just not doing it as well as I could be. There are some parts of me that aren’t operating the way they should, mostly because of exhaustion of the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual varieties.

It usually happens around this time of year. Judgement House is over. The holidays are on the way. I’m relieved that Judgement House is done for another year, and while I’m looking forward to Thanksgiving and Christmas, I’m exhausted just thinking about how much work they are. Plus with the added stress of my job, my mom’s significant health issues, and the daily requirements of everyday life that I can never seem to stay up with, I feel like I’m in a constant battle to keep my head above water and that most of the time I’m swallowing more water than is healthy.

So the question I’m coming to is how do you get out of safe mode? Well, I know how I do that on my computer. I restart my program. But I can’t exactly do that with my life, can I?

Well, actually, you can.

Program trying to start in safe mode

Program trying to start in safe mode

Today’s verse is Lamentations 3:22-23.

The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning.

I know I’ve blogged on this verse many times before, but there’s no better verse in my mind if I’m trying to remember the fact that God is a God of second chances and third chances and fourth chances and on and on and on. You get the idea. It’s never too late to restart again, not when it comes to your relationship with God. As long as you’re still breathing, you still have hope. God never gives up on us, so where do we get off thinking we can give up on Him?

Every day is a battle. If you’re a follower of Christ and your life in this world isn’t a daily battle in some sense of the concept, something’s wrong. As Christ-followers, this world isn’t our home. So if your life has trouble, that doesn’t automatically mean you’re doing something wrong. It just means that you’re a stranger in a strange land.

True, there may be trouble in your life for a reason beyond the world’s brokenness. I’m just saying don’t automatically jump to the conclusion that God is out to get you because of it. This isn’t where we’re supposed to be comfortable. This isn’t where we should desire to spend our eternity.

What I’m trying to wrap my head around at this point in my walk is how to restart without repeating the same mistakes. There’s a difference between restarting and starting over. Restarting wipes the slate clean. Starting over means you build on the ruins of what didn’t work the first time.

If I know it doesn’t work, I don’t want to restart on its ashes. I want to get as far away from it as I can. So how do you restart with a new perspective on life in general, especially when you’re too tired and burned out to care about much of anything?

For me, the biggest part of it is being honest with yourself. If you need to restart, don’t just identify the need and do nothing about it. Identify what needs to change and change it. Do something about it. Many times for me that starts with being willing to talk about it with someone.

It’s like trying to get your work done with a computer program that’s only operating with half its functionality. It’s frustrating because you know it can do more—it just won’t while it’s in safe mode.

Restart. Get back to basics. Clean the slate. Your day started off terrible? It doesn’t have to end terrible; God can redeem even the worst day. Your whole day was discouraging and disheartening? Tomorrow doesn’t have to be that way. Tell God about it and let Him walk with you through tomorrow. You spent today running in circles and accomplishing absolutely nothing? Maybe you learned something in all that waste of time that you needed to know for the next day.

Yesterday is done. Today begins new. Today begins fresh. Don’t let yesterday drag you down, especially when yesterday’s troubles won’t leave you alone. Sometimes it takes today’s perspective to tackle yesterday’s problems anyway.

You can restart anytime. So don’t wait. Don’t keep plugging away with a perspective that’s only letting you see half the picture. Restart. Open your eyes. Even if you can’t see everything God is doing, you can see enough to remember that He does have it under control. He loves you. You’re valuable to Him. And He wants to hang out with you today.

A giant wolf spider who took up residence in my bathroom cabinet, Haven, KS

Running from trouble gets you nowhere

My house is full of spiders. Granted, it’s not as bad this year as it’s been in previous years, but it’s still pretty bad. I snapped this cell phone shot of a wolf spider who was living in my bathroom cabinet.

Believe it or not, I almost left him alone because wolf spiders are the natural enemies of brown recluses, one of the most poisonous spiders ever. And my house is loaded with brown recluses. Seriously. I have a ton of them. But they are recluses for a reason and usually run away .

In any case, the wolf spider didn’t make it. But in case you’re wondering what this has to do with anything, I was sitting at the computer in my hotel in Bellevue, Washington, and a spider came crawling down the wall. And I’m pretty positive that it was a brown recluse. At least, it looked like one, and it behaved like one.

And I couldn’t help but laugh because the rainy, cold Pacific Northwest was the last place I thought I’d find another brown recluse. I usually only find them in the hot, dryness of summer in Kansas.

But it made me think about something. When I see a spider now, I squash them. Or I spray them. Or (in some rare cases) I leave them alone. But I made the decision years ago on how to handle them and have taught myself through years of experience how to deal with them. So whenever a see a spider, I know what to do.

Now what if I hadn’t done that? What if I hadn’t trained myself how to handle spiders? I’d go running and screaming every time I saw one, no matter where I went. So I’d run and scream at home, and I’d run and scream at my hotel in Seattle. The spiders aren’t going to change. There are spiders everywhere. But how I respond to them can.

It’s just like troubles in our lives. We all have them. They just look different. But when you run away from them, you’re just going to find the same problem farther down the road. You can’t escape them. You have to learn how to face them.

A giant wolf spider who took up residence in my bathroom cabinet, Haven, KS

A giant wolf spider who took up residence in my bathroom cabinet, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Lamentations 3:30.

Let them turn the other cheek to those who strike them
    and accept the insults of their enemies.

Dealing with people who don’t like you can be really difficult. And I’m not saying to fall down and allow people to beat you up. That’s not the point.

Sometimes, it’s better to be the one who backs off. Sometimes, it’s better to be humble. Sometimes, it’s better to be the one who takes it on the jaw.

As Christ-followers, we’re strong enough to take it. God gives us the strength to go through anything. And we need to remember that in this life, we’re going to have trouble. We aren’t going to find the perfect solution to living on this Earth because this isn’t our home. And if we keep packing up and moving on to every new situation that comes our way, we won’t learn the lesson God is trying to teach us through the struggles He has allowed into our path.

You’ve heard that the grass is always greener on the other side? It’s not. It’s the same grass. It’s just your perspective on it. Grass is grass wherever you go, and it’s subject to the same problems and difficulties everywhere.

So if you don’t learn how to handle the problems you’re facing today, you won’t know what do to when the same problems pop up a few miles down the road.

So stop running. Face your troubles head on. Let God help you, let Him make you strong, and let Him show you what you need to learn.

Spiders come in every shape and size, but they all squash the same. Learn how to deal with the small ones, and the big ones won’t be that scary.