Tough Stuff

Though I may be hard pressed to find last minute Thanksgiving decorations (apparently the stores have moved onto Christmas), the calendar does beckon me to Thanksgiving. All I wanted was little leaf stickers to decorate my Thanksgiving notes...never to be found. I digress.
The writer in me wanted to share something really inspirational about gratitude. Thankfulness. Something thought-provoking. But I'm afraid I've come on the side of Debbie Downer or Negative Nellie.
What I find more thought-provocing these days, most profound is the choice to be grateful for the obstacles in life. The tough stuff. The things I've said before that I'd really just like to forget are happening or have happened in my life. I'm not suggesting that it's great to be stranded on the side of the road with an overheated car, to be in a tail-spin with your husband or be terminated from your job. I'm just wondering, if we put on aerial-view glasses, should we welcome these difficult circumstances because they give opportunities faith to grow?
I woke in the middle of the night with heavy feelings of bitterness. Why at three in the morning did the Holy Spirit see fit to convict me of bitterness toward someone? Because I had to deal with it, that's why. After confessing and pleading with God to change my bitterness into compassion, empathy and prayer, I'm realizing this isn't likely a one-time confession. This is like a wound that needs more consistent dressing changes. Likely for some time, I'll be confessing the bitterness that's emerged (again), thanking God for forgiveness (again) and asking Him to replace those feelings. Ahh, this will be a long road. Shouldn't I be thankful for the long road? Thankful for the opportunity to be right in my relationship with not only this person, but with God?
Though this will be a longer road than I'd like, "the best things are always achieved by the most difficult paths," (Streams in the Desert, pg.429). Don't I want more compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and love, to bear with others and forgive as Christ forgave me (Colossians 3:12-14)? If this is the circumstance I find myself in to practice and learn these virtues, then why wouldn't I choose to say, thanks for conflict?
This Thanksgiving, go deeper than thanking God for family, a home, health... Yes, these are all great gifts from a generous heavenly Father! And will you also choose to thank Him for the opportunities to grow in character and virtue? Will you choose to thank Him for the tough stuff?

Too easy

Self-diagnosed, I feel the beginning stages of arthritis every time I ring out a rag or twist off a canning jar ring. I tell the engineer, "I'm going to have arthritis just like grandma and I haven't worked near as hard as she did in her life. Pathetic!"
For years, I've been thinking it: My life is too easy; I feel too incredibly blessed. Mostly, these thoughts come to me as I think about the lives of my grandmothers. How different my life is compared to theirs. I garden because I love the feel of the earth in my hands and the flavorful benefits; they gardened out of necessity because it put food on the table for the year to come. One grandma worked outside the home to make ends meet; the five years I worked outside the home, it was to feel a sense a normalcy and self-worth. The other grandma farmed alongside her husband because there was no other way to get the work done and a harvest reaped; I pack a lunch for the engineer to take to work. She sewed everything; I like Kohl's and while leaving sewing in the hobby category.
James Dobson has said that hard times create emotional and physical toughness. The opposite is also true; ease and abundance create weakness. It is possible that God may in fact allow adversity to make us stronger (When God Doesn't Make Sense, 1993, pg. 150).
Going through a trial in my own life right now, an opportunity to trust God even though I do not understand, I "almost kinda" wish my past was harder. I remember just having purchased a fixer-upper, Taco John's 6-pack and a pound in my hand, a one-year old and two-year old sitting with me at the picnic table left behind by the previous owners, thinking, This is impossible. There is too much to accomplish. I can't do this! Fast forward a year, house in operating order and the engineer is traveling 12-weeks straight, maybe seeing the girls and I for 12 or at most, 24-hours a week, thinking, I hate my life. I can't be a single mom. It's too taxing. A few years later: our basement flooding and working like gangbusters to move everything upstairs with no clue how high the waters will rise, God, I can't go on. I don't have the strength. I'm overwhelmed. Looking back, I see that those times made me stronger. I came through those adversities stronger physically, emotionally and spiritually. And I "almost kinda" wish I had more rough times. (But who seriously wishes for those out-loud?)
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4
All joy? As I wrestle through my own trial, I need to think, "joy"? So I choose not to shrink back. To thank God for this opportunity to grow in faith and trust in God's divine interruption of my life in order to make me complete, lacking nothing. Will you welcome the rough roads? I think it's easier when I take a step back and envision what it will look like to have grown. To consider how God might strengthen me. Yes, maybe my life is easier than Grandma's, but God uses opportunities for growth that are perfectly designed for my bent. I choose to trust Him with all joy.


I am easily overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by something trivial like a packing list or huge like God's direction for the next phase of my life. "I know, it's ridiculous! This is small fries; seriously, who really cares that we don't have that birth certificate? Why do I get so overwhelmed?"
So silly! God is present and directs me in the big stuff, the simple stuff, the mundane stuff and the tough stuff. It's so straight and simple in Psalm 23: the "big fries" are eternity. And if that's secure, seriously, everything else is small fries.
Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Psalm 23:6
Forever! Nothing changes this. Forever compared to the checkbook not being balanced is like, "Who cares about the checkbook?" Forever compared to should I write a book is like, "Well, whatever about that book." Forever compared to how does God want to shape our family, is like, "Either way, heaven's your destination."
Don't get me wrong, decisions are real but I don't need to fret or manipulate the situation. Wherever I go and whatever I do, God is actively working and directing my steps. I'm reminded of beautiful Sarah of the Old Testament. She was all worked up about God's promise to her hubby, Abraham: "Count the stars if you can. That’s how many descendants you will have!” Sarah responds by thinking logically, What? I'm getting older and still no baby, better take matters into my own hands. Here honey, have babies through my maid Hagaar. (And that didn't go well. Read the details here.) How often am I just like Sarah, worrying and trying to manipulate the situation, to work it out the best I can?
Trust in the Lord completely and don't depend on your own reasoning and stellar planning skills. Proverbs 3:5, my paraphrase
God will work and fashion for His good purpose in His perfect timing. Just breathe. Keep taking a step at a time. Keep eternal perspective. Sometimes it does matter next year, sometimes it doesn't. Just remember the big fries: eternity.
And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know you have eternal life. And this is the confidence that we have toward Him, that if we ask anything in His will He hears us. 1 John 5:11-14
There was a young boy who went with his mother to see the premier pianist of his time. As they waited for the concert to begin, the boy's mother was visiting with another mother and the young boy walked up on the stage and began plunking out "Chopsticks" on the grand piano. The audience was aghast and quickly many set to work to remove the boy from the stage. Yet out came the pianist and said to the boy, "That was beautiful! Please keep playing." And as the boy did, the pianist placed his seasoned hands around the young boy's and created a rich, beautiful, full sound that filled the orchestra hall. We are like that little boy, plunking out the rhythms God calls us to: laundry, cleaning, your day job, washing the car, haircuts... These are small fries but the Holy Spirit comes alongside us to make these small, seemingly insignificant tasks and make them shine the light on Jesus. We may never know how our smile or tip made the day of the hairdresser. We may never realize that our act of service for our children allowed them to encourage a friend or allowed them time to pursue a masterpiece of art for the Creator.
All we're called to do is obediently plunk out the melody of what He calls us to do each day. He will take our small fries and make them great in His time, in His will, according to His pleasure. He's promised us big fries. So oh my heart, don't fret the small fries.

Surely Shirley

I still can picture her. A tiny little frame with perfectly colored and curled hair, ninety plus years of age saying, "You won't forget my name: Shirley. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life." Dad's aunt Shirley from Hull, Iowa, using her name and her years of wisdom to testify to the faithfulness of Jesus.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Psalm 23:6
For whatever reason, I woke in the middle of the night saying that verse, picturing her face over and over again. I didn't know really know Shirley. Who really gets to know their dad's aunts? She's in heaven now, but I bet her life wasn't always a bundle of roses. I bet she faced rough times in her marriage, finances, parenting, community and church. Drought, job loss, death... Yet in the last days of her life, she testified to God's goodness and mercy all the days of her life.
This inspires me. Overall, God's given me a good life: a husband I can't wait to wrap my arms around at the end of every work day, three healthy daughters who are learning what it means to walk with Jesus, way more house than I need, a garden I can get my hands dirty in, time to express my heart in words, friends that pray for me, parents and siblings that accept me. But then there's the tough stuff: babies I didn't get to hold, years of disconnection and disappointment in marriage, the willfully disobedient toddler years, the hormonal roller-coaster tween years, moving from close friends, burying my eleven-year old nephew, changing families... These things I'd like to forget; in which I hardly see goodness and mercy.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name's sake. Psalm 23:1-3
God loving leads us through all of it. He provides rest, refreshment and restoration as we need. He doesn't make a wrong turn. All the circumstances of our life refine us and bring Him glory. ALL the days of our life, not just the good ones. He uses those rough days we'd like to forget to shape us more like Jesus. We must accept these realities that we can not change. Maybe He knows we couldn't learn to be like Jesus, couldn't get truth through our thick-skulls if there weren't hardships. In the hardship, He reveals Himself to us so we can mirror Him. Even in those ugly times, He's still leading perfectly and gives gifts of goodness & mercy that follow us around like little chicks following their mother.
Every time I go to the grocery store with all three golden heads, I feel this phenomena. I can't get rid of them. Seriously, they're 12, 11 and 8, but they follow me, nearly stepping on my heels. And while this can be infuriating, suffocating and feel like leeches, I've never lost them in a large store and that's a good thing! Just like a baby chick won't leave their momma, neither will God's inherent goodness and mercy leave those He leads. Granted sometimes for a while, that goodness and mercy might be disguised, in the most tiny form (barely a bud), or seem a nuisance, but goodness and mercy are present. God promises they are present all the days of our lives.
Whether you're in the middle of the good, lush green grasses or you think your surroundings look like desert, choose to trust God's leading you and His plan and purpose is for goodness and mercy to be nipping at your heels, even if you don't quite yet understand.