Tuesday, February 23, 2021

"It Won't Always Be Like This"

“It won’t always be like this.”

These words God deposited in my heart when our baby girl was a few days old, eating around the clock every two or three hours, which meant I was sleeping in thirty- to forty-minute increments.

Little did I know then that this phrase would become a mantra for other areas of my life.

When I'm recovering from surgery, or suffering through COVID, or experiencing (most recently) food poisoning: “It won’t always be like this.”

When our girl is teething, or coughing, or going through a developmental leap, and our (normally) good sleeper spends a few nights in the chair with mommy, I tell myself: “It won’t always be like this.”

Those tough first weeks with a newborn morph into four- and five- and six-hour stretches of sleep (and now our girl sleeps ten or eleven hours… *high five!*), and the sleep-deprived days are memories we joke about with a hint of pride for our survival skills.

God’s words to me are both an encouragement (“this is temporary”) and a caution (“don’t wish away this season”).

I’ve always heard women say they forget the pain from childbirth—like it’s this supernatural thing God does in our minds so that we’ll continue to procreate.

As a pregnant woman, I received this with skepticism, and now, about 15 months after my first childbirth experience, I understand what they mean.

It’s not that I’ve forgotten the 21-hour, all-natural delivery, but I don’t really remember the pain. It’s like a blurred scene on the film strip of my memory.

Howell remembers that day far more vividly than I do—and I think he’s a bit scarred by it. I can’t even recall the intensity of the contractions. Certainly I remember having them, but I can’t conjure up what they felt like. And I remember that it hurt at the end, but it seems so brief, so passing because moments later, I held my baby girl, and none of it mattered.

That experience was less than 24 hours. Somedays when I remember we spent almost a decade waiting for our girl, it, too, feels like a blink in time.

Not then, of course. But now—on this side of it.

I’ve found that my greatest defense against discouragement in a tough season is to remember. While the pain, the suffering, even the intensity of time—minutes, hours, days, years passing—fades, what remains in my memory is God’s faithfulness.

It stands out above the noise.

Time and again, I remember what He has done for me.

God’s word calls our affliction “light” and “momentary” (2 Cor. 4:17), and I’m sure Paul’s suffering goes far beyond anything I’ve experienced. (In fact, that sort of perspective is good to hang on to.)

Paul goes on to tell us to focus on what is unseen, the eternal, rather than the temporary (2 Cor. 4:18).


 
Peter says it like this: “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6-7).

Notice that our faith is more precious than gold that perishes. Gold sounds temporal, huh?

But faith—that’s among the things unseen, the things eternal.

His words to me are true: “It won’t always be like this.”

Today I can hardly believe our miracle girl is running all over the house, holding her baby doll, and playing “pretend” with her as she rocks her and feeds her the Cheerios from her snack cup. The girl I spent weeks feeding around the clock now holds a fork and feeds herself. And the nights that felt hard are forgotten, replaced by the warmth of my bed and the comfort of my husband.

If you’ve been grieved by various trials, my friend, if it feels hot under the fire right now, don’t lose heart.

Whatever we are going through is temporary. It might be over in an hour, or a day, or a week, or a year. Even if it takes years upon years, our circumstances are still temporary.

So let’s fix our minds on Christ, on the things of the Spirit, which are life and peace (Ro. 8:6).

Let’s ask God to give us His eternal perspective.

And let’s remember all the times He’s been faithful before to bolster our faith that He will do it again.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

The Question



While recently reading a fiction book for the general market, I came across a bit of dialogue in which one character asks the other whether he believes in God. He hedges something like, sometimes, but not always, to which she replies, “I do.”

But then she goes on to say that as she grew older, the relationship she once enjoyed as a child, she now didn’t. And her reason: “I thought I understood the way things were supposed to work, but as I grew older, I realized I didn’t.”

She continues her speech to reveal one key reason for her disconnect from God as an adult: “Why would God, who’s supposed to be all good and loving, allow innocent people to suffer?”

This is the question that I think everyone—believer or non-believer—has to, at some point, grapple with.

This character ultimately feels both hopeless and unhappy as she attempts to reconcile her current situation with God’s Word—and the Bible falls short, she says. For this reason, we see her abandon her faith.

As I read this passage, something deep in my soul stirred, so I marked it. The depth of that fictional—and secular—conversation required more thought, more time.

I think the question—posed often in another form as “Why do bad things happen to good people?”—needs to be asked in a different way.

How do we discern what is from God?

When formed this way, I believe the Bible not only gives us hope but also gives us an answer—one we choose to believe by faith in His nature.

So, my answer?

If it is good, it is from God. His Word tells us He gives good gifts (Matthew 7:11; Luke 11:13; James 1:17).

God, by His nature, cannot give us evil gifts. It is not who He is.

This is the first response I would give to this character—that she has lost her hope and her happiness because she’s begun to doubt the very nature of God, His goodness.

When we come to a place where we doubt God’s goodness, then what we see around us determines how we define God and His kingdom. It becomes impossible to separate what we are experiencing (our circumstances) from our certainty or security in God’s love for us, for humanity. 

If He is not good, He is also not loving. If He’s neither loving nor good, then He is easy to blame for all of our bad circumstances, all accounts of evil, all of mankind’s failures.

But He is good. One of my favorite verses is Psalm 119:68, which tells us God is good and what He does is good.





It is who He is—and the only way to crawl out of the pit of hopelessness is to believe this truth.

When we do, it changes our perspective. It changes how we view and answer the rest of this character’s question—why do the innocent suffer? Or, put another way, why do bad things happen to good people?

I’d argue there are three possible reasons—all grounded in the Bible, and I’ll try to be succinct.

1. The first might be our favorite because it takes the responsibility off of us and becomes an easy scapegoat. What is this reason? The devil and his demons. But in all seriousness, the Bible is clear that we have an enemy, an adversary, and he comes “to steal, kill, and destroy” (John 10:10). I am not a big “blame it on the Devil” person, but I also think if we don’t understand the very real and present powers of darkness that are at work (Ephesians 6:12), then we are both na├»ve and deceived.

2. The second is less popular because it is our responsibility, the result of our choices. Since the Garden of Eden, there have always been two choices: the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:16). Adam and Even chose the second tree (Genesis 3), and mankind today still chooses it, even believers. Our choices have consequences. We may be reaping what we have sown (Galatians 6:7-8). No one likes this answer, but it’s simply the truth.

God redeems us from our sin. He doesn’t punish us for our sin. The Bible is clear about that—Jesus is our atonement (Romans 3:23-25; Ephesians 1:7; 1 John 2:2).

And yet, these truths also exist. We make choices. And our choices have consequences.

3. And finally—the least popular answer, because it’s both out of our control and hard to swallow: sometimes God simply allows it. We see this play out in the book of Job (Job 2:1-10). The Word also tells us trials are for our testing (James 1:2-4), to work out our salvation (Philippians 2:12-13), for our refinement (Malachi 3:3; 1 Peter 1:17), for our sanctification (John 17:17-20; Hebrews 13:12-13), for our good (Romans 8:28-30). None of these processes are easy—or fun.

The truth is, we may never know the reason why.

And let’s be clear here that even if God allows our pain, our suffering, our hard circumstances, our unfair situation—it is not from Him.

Remember, if something is from God, it is good, loving, peaceable (James 3:16-18). These are the gifts He gives. If it lines up with His nature, it is from Him.

And if you find yourself in a place that doesn’t feel good, what can you do?

I implore you, friends, don’t throw in the towel, as this character has done. Don’t abandon your relationship with your Heavenly Father.

Now, in this present circumstances, is the time to press in, to receive His love, His song over you, and to believe in His everlasting goodness and faithfulness.

Won’t you do it? Look for His goodness today.

Each good gift is like a knot on a rope, giving you a place to grip, a way to find footing as you climb out of the pit.

Keep climbing, friends. Keep gripping.


Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Fear of Man: Part Two

“The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trust in the Lord is safe.” – Proverbs 29:25.


In the book Stop Calling Me Beautiful, Masonheimer reminds us that this verse doesn’t say the fear of man is a snare, but rather the fear of man lays a snare. She calls the fear of man the trapper, not the trap. I’m paraphrasing here, but she basically says the trapper deceives, hides the trap, makes it blend into the surroundings, feels normal so you’ll feel safe to walk in that direction.

Wow.

The fear of man is a burden I don’t want to carry anymore. It has weighed me down in some seasons more than others, but I want to be free. Don’t you?

What’s the opposite of being taken in by the trapper? Trusting the Lord. That’s how we stay safe.

As an example, I’m thinking about my writing, my platform, and the whole process of trying to gain the approval an editor.

I changed genres from what I first set out to write because someone in the industry suggested it—telling me my genre (women’s fiction / contemporary fiction) won’t sell and suggesting instead that the manuscript be something else. So I re-wrote that entire book to make it a romance because romance sells.

Fast forward seven years, and I just finished re-writing that book (again) back to women’s fiction because when I returned to God’s words to me, what He has spoken over me about my writing, I remember that He called my work to be real and relatable, to write about people, families, marriages that are authentic and flawed but so capable of being redeemed.

Of course, I love a good love story—and my work will probably always have some element of that because the gospel is the greatest love story ever written. But my heart has always been to write about women and overcoming their struggles within themselves and in all relationships—marriage, family, friendships.

I have also shied away from really writing some of the stories on my heart because I get so worried about other people’s opinion. I shared this with Howell for the first time last year when I told him, if I write about a failing marriage, will people assume it’s ours? If I write about sisters who hate each other, will people think I’m harboring some deep resentment toward my own sister? If I write about a mom/daughter or dad/daughter conflict, if I write about blending families or divorced parents, will people question my own family, my own relationships? Will people think I’m writing about them if their story is similar?

Maybe this is a normal concern for writers who are getting started, but I have felt so trapped by these fears for a while, and I think making the decision to re-write my manuscript last fall was my first step toward freedom.

But the fear of man is not just about my writing. I’ve entered a new season with a renewed desire to deepen the friendships I have—to invest in new ones and to return to being real and vulnerable with the old ones.

No area of people pleasing / people fearing affects me more than communities of women. Friendships.

This is not to say I can’t fall into the trap with my family or in my marriage, but there’s a certain level of security there, right? I have confidence in their love for me, no matter what I do or say.

The commitment to be friends—and stay friends—is not as certain.

And that uncertainty makes me feel insecure.

And insecurity makes me want to control.

And sometimes control looks like not engaging, because I’ll just get hurt.

Can you relate?

I like how it feels to be on the inside, but any reminder that I’m really just on the fringe makes me feel insecure. And the people I work the hardest to please and worry the most about disappointing are often not even really my friends. They’re acquaintances at best and strangers at worst.

I can sometimes get so caught up in wondering and trying to anticipate what other people want or think that I lose sight of what I even want or think.

And even more muddied from what I want or think becomes deciphering what God wants or thinks about me.

Isn’t that what happened with my writing and the back-and-forth genre struggle?

Isn’t that what happens when I shrink back from other women, when I choose not to engage, when I avoid getting hurt?

But if I listen to what God thinks about me, I would know He’s already pleased. I have his full approval. I’m accepted and loved. I have need of nothing else because nothing else can really top that.

The fear of man lays a snare, but I choose not to let the trapper trick me. Not this year.

I will trust the Lord. I will believe what He says about me. I will listen for his voice above the noise.

What about you, friends?

P.S. If you missed Part One, check it out here

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Peace or Fear: Part One

“I don’t want to die.”

These are my forced, barely whispered words between gasps for air as Howell and I argued (again) about whether to call an ambulance and have (another) visit to the ER.

It sounds dramatic, but even now, weeks later I can still remember the fear that gripped me.

I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t stand, couldn’t think straight.

Because the only thoughts running through my brain were 1) our hospitals are over maxed capacity; 2) if I go to the hospital, they’ll put me on a ventilator; and 3) if I go in, I might not come out.

Fear. Fear. Fear.

I was truly terrified.

Obviously, I didn’t die, though I did feel like death for a while.

And while I did have COVID pneumonia, my symptoms weren’t actually related to the virus.

And while all of this did lead to another surgery this year (after the almost baseball-sized tumor on my thyroid this summer), I did not have to stay in the hospital this time.

But I keep coming back to that moment, to those words, to that level of gut-wrenching fear.

What if I don’t come home? What if I never see Howell’s face again? Never hold my girl?

I can think of at least two other life-threatening moments I have experienced (this was not), and the stark contrast between my fear here and the peace I felt in those moments is astounding.

Peace or fear. I get to choose, right?

I have experienced and witnessed a lot of fear lately.

Fear falls into two camps, one related to our (potential) circumstances and one related to people. I’m hoping to dive into this second one in a Part 2 post, but for now—and for this specific situation—my fear was definitely about a potential circumstance. What might happen.

Years ago, Jackie Mize called FEAR False Evidence Against Reality.

Isn’t that so true? What we fear almost never comes to reality.

Kris Vallotton says it like this: “Fear is imagining the future without God.”

Let’s look at Jesus’s words to us in John 14:27. He says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled; neither let them be afraid.”



How can He tell us not to have troubled hearts, not to be afraid?

Because He has given us his peace.

We have the peace of Jesus.

We have the gift of the Holy Spirit’s presence at all times.

We have the promise of God’s goodness and faithfulness always.

What better news could He give us? His Word tells us that no weapon formed against us shall prosper (IS. 54:17).

But here’s the question… Here’s where we have to get real: Do we really believe His word? Do we believe what He says is true?

I have struggled with this question more in the last year than most recent years, specifically in the area of healing.

Because sometimes God doesn’t heal in the way we want or ask, no matter how firmly we believed or how repeatedly we prayed.

And because sometimes hard stuff still happens to us, even when we prayed it wouldn’t.

In these moments, it feels like God’s word isn’t true.

But we have to choose. We choose to say yes to His word, yes to His nature, yes to His character. We stand on His faithfulness in the past. We stand on His sovereignty and the good plans He has for us.

It’s okay to ask the hard questions. How are you being real with Him if you don’t?

Ask and listen—and then trust and believe.

And if you find your heart troubled by present or potential circumstances, don’t give in to the fear. Embrace the peace that is available.

 

p.s. If you need a pep talk for overcoming fear and embracing what God says about you, read Romans 8 every day this week. I promise you’ll be encouraged.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Stepping Forward

I started blogging in 2007, before blogging was popular. (And I’m now told that it’s dying, like all things print, because people only want to watch or listen. Gosh, I hope this isn’t true.)

When I created this site on Blogspot, before there were other fancier forums, I titled it Obeying the Call because that’s what it felt like. Every post seemed vulnerable to share—and to do so was always my act of obedience.

I’m an introvert—and not the kind that thrives in virtual spaces where I could have a larger-than-life personality. I’m afraid my online persona is basically the same as me in real life. (To give a slightly embarrassing example, even social media posts that get a lot of comments can sometimes overwhelm me, and I’m always in awe of those who can reply (cleverly) to each person. Meanwhile I’m like—ahh, all. the. people.)

And so, here I go again—sharing and being vulnerable—because I feel God nudging my heart to pick up my blogging pen more in 2021.

2020 was awful. I think we can all agree.

I lost two friends.

I had COVID twice.

I had two non-elective surgeries.

You see a pattern there?

I started studying the significance of the number two, and although not the only symbolism for this number, two can represent division or contrast or opposites. Like a line in the sand—that’s the picture God gave me.

The number two represents a choice.

Life or death.

Light or darkness.

Faith or fear.

Spirit or flesh.

Peace or anxiety.

Tree of Life or Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Two masters: God or money.

The narrow gate or the wide gate.

There are always two paths. We always have to choose.



God continually invites us to go deeper. Writing that sentence reminds me of a dream I had years ago where God opened the door to a staircase and said, “Come.”

There’s always a new step, a deeper level of discernment, a stronger capacity for faith, a fresh understanding of His Word.

We’ll never have all the answers.

We’ll never have Him all figured out.

We’ll never know everything there is to know about His Word.

We’ll never not need Him. (Yep—double negative there. That’s how strong this truth is.)

Aren’t you glad?

In 2021, God is still opening doors to staircases for me, still extending His hand, still saying “Come.”

And He offers you the same invitation.

Sometimes God doesn’t give us what we asked for, but do you know what He never withholds? His presence. His goodness. His faithfulness. His joy. His love.

And when we look back, when we reflect, we see that He’s always answering, always working, always making a way. Sometimes it’s a new path. Sometimes it’s the same. But we have to move, participate, engage.  

We have a choice this year, this day, this hour.

I’m taking a step forward. How about you?