He Never Promised Us a Rose Garden

For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die. A time to kill and a time to heal…A time to cry and a time to laugh. A time to grieve and a time to dance.”  Ecclesiastes 3:1-4 NLT

Can I be bold with you?  Sometimes life just sucks.  For those of you offended by that word, please forgive me but honestly in some situations there’s really no better non-cuss word to use.  Seriously think about it-throughout history there has been generations of people who endured much suffering and I am certain there are people right now in your family or neighborhood who seem to repeatedly get dealt an unlucky hand in the poker game we call life.  Sometimes-we are that person who’s parade is ever being rained on and no matter how hard we fight, crawl, climb, scrape and cry-out for help it seems we’re continuously being knocked down and will forever remain in a pit of bad-luck and despair.

I’ve had my share of “bad luck”-my life has been a whirlwind of high hopes and deep disappointments. I’ve experience sudden deaths of loved ones including my step-dad when I was just 7-years-old.  In my 20’s I lost the one man who was a constant in my life, my grandfather, to lung cancer.  Add to that the betrayal of friends, a few abusive relationships, growing up around violent alcoholics and at times feeling abandoned by own biological father, you could say my life hasn’t been all sunshine and roses. There have been years I felt like I was just moving in circles and other years I felt I was running on a hamster wheel striving to rise above all the junk but really just going nowhere and wearing myself out in the process.

To make matters worse, I’ve seen people I care deeply about have their whole lives turned upside by major tragedies-sometimes it’s a sickness, sometimes it’s a family member (or themselves) battling an addiction, other times it’s a break-up or divorce, sometimes it’s the sudden loss of a loved one or the untimely death of a family member or a friend due to a lengthy illness.  Then I turn on the news or read online and tragedy is splattered everywhere.  Just last week I watched a video of a shell-shocked boy, only 8-years-old being pulled away from rubble and left alone in an ambulance while rescue workers searched for other survivors and casualties.  The clip showed him completely  gray in color covered in ash, with no emotion on his face.  He rubbed his eye, barely blinking, touched his bloodied head and looked at his hand.  The sight of blood on his hand didn’t even excite or upset him.

I cannot tell you how many times I have cried over the tragedy of others.  My heart breaks over my own disappointments and losses but when I see others hurting or going through a trial that just doesn’t make sense I cry for them, I get angry at God for them and there are times I simply ask God, “Why?”  Other times I cry out, “God this is so unfair!”  And I cover them in prayer whenever they come to mind.  When I see others hurting I also tend to want to hug them until their hurt goes away.  I want to make them feel better and make them whole again.  I forget that I am not God and He alone is the One True Healer.  Only God can turn broken hearts into whole ones again.  His word not only says so, He shows how He does it through Job and Ruth.

Ruth was a young widow in a foreign country. Her mother-in-law, Naomi, was engulfed with grief after losing not only her husband but also her two sons.  The only family she had left was her two daughters-in-law.  In that culture it was normal for a sibling to marry his brother’s widow.  Alas, for Ruth and her sister-in-law this was not an option as both siblings were deceased.  Naomi felt her daughters-in-law would be better off returning to their home country for a chance to find new husbands and bare children.  Neither wanted to leave her at first, but after a little urging Ruth’s sister-in-law left Naomi and returned to her home land.  Ruth however clung to Naomi.  One of my favorite verses in the Bible is when Ruth says to Naomi, “Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.” (Ruth 1:16 NLT) And Ruth’s persistence pays off because Naomi finally permits Ruth to stay with her.  That decision ends up being the turning point in changing both Naomi and Ruth’s circumstance from despair to redemption.  Ruth lost her husband. Naomi lost her son.  But God placed them in the hands of a kinsman redeemer who became Ruth’s husband and in a way an honorary son to Naomi.  In the ends, Naomi’s friends (or moreover perhaps the town gossips) praise God by saying, “Praise the Lord, who has now provided a redeemer for your family! May this child be famous in Israel. May he restore your youth and care for you in your old age. For he is the son of your daughter-in-law who loves you and has been better to you than seven sons!” (Ruth 4:14-15 NLT)

The other example of God moving a pit dweller into a land walker is good ole’ Job.  In Job 1, he is introduced as a man who fear God and stayed away from evil.  He was also a man who was very wealthy, married and had several children.  Life you could say for Job was “smooth-sailing.”  Along comes satan who mocks Job’s faith by implying Job was only a follower of Christ because God had given him such an easy life.  God’s response?  He allowed the belly-crawler that satan is to attack Job and test his faith.  First Job lost his livelihood.  He had no time to absorb this kind of a hit before he was informed ALL of his children were killed at once.  If that wasn’t enough, God even allowed satan to attack Job’s health and he ended up covered in painful boils. Job didn’t just fall into a pit, he was thrown in by the arrogant punk coward forked tongue fallen angel Lucifer.  AND GOD ALLOWED IT!!!!  For me that is the most shocking part of Job’s story. God allowed a faithful follower of his to hit rock bottom simply to prove that nothing would shake Job’s faith to the point that he would turn against God.

Even though Job grieved, tore his clothing and covered himself in ash-he was credited for not sinning against God during this horribly tragic time.  In the end God restored to Job all that he had lost, two fold.  He doubled Job’s fortune and restored to him the exact number of children Job had lost.  JOb was even cured from his boils. (Job 42)

These are just two examples of restoration and redemption.  God’s word is filled with so many more.  In this life-God still restores and redeem.  If you are going through a difficult time, learning to live life without the person you loved most in it or feeling like you are forever stuck in a pit or just going in circles please be encouraged that God is with you, He will not leave you nor forsake you and just like Psalms 40 reminds us, He will pull us from the mud and the mire.  In fact, I’d like to end this post with Psalm 40.  I pray it encourages anyone who reads it and empowers you to walk tall knowing God is for you, not against you.  If you surrender your wounds to the Father He will make you whole again. Be open to love.  God tends to show His love for us through the love of others.  He’s also been known to use the love of others to mend our brokenness.  Ruth and Job’s hearts were crushed but God not only pieced them back together He enlarged their hearts to love again. After all, they’re hearts had to have grown twice in size at least to love those they had lost and have room to love the ones they had gained also.

“I waited patiently for the Lord to help me,

and he turned to me and heard my cry.

He lifted me out of the pit of despair,

out of the mud and the mire.

He set my feet on solid ground

and steadied me as I walked along.

He has given me a new song to sing,

a hymn of praise to our God.

Many will see what he has done and be amazed.

They will put their trust in the Lord.” (Psalm 40:1-3 NLT)

One final thought before I close-God doesn’t just promise to bind up broken hearts-Psalm 30 tells us He promises to turn our mourning into joyful dancing, and to clothe us with joy (verse 11.)  Grief is part of the process when one experiences loss.  But it’s a process, not a way of life. Eventually to move past grief we have to release the wound and allow God to mend it so that we will no longer have the desire to mourn but instead be filled with joy and gladness once again.

Let. It. Go.

“Do not remember the things that have happened before. Do not think about the things of the past.”

Isaiah 43:18 NLV

Anyone who has a preteen or early teenaged daughter, preschool aged niece or school-aged granddaughter knows about the movie Frozen.  If you’ve walked through the toy department at Walmart, you know about Frozen.  But for those who’ve been off the grid or living in an alternate universe the past few years I’ll give a quick rundown of the movie.

Frozen depicts two sisters, Elsa and Anna, one (Elsa) of which is cursed with a spell that t turns everything she touches to ice.  During one of their playtimes, Elsa accidentally injures Anna with her ice hands and the girls are separated for the remainder of their childhood.  To make the story more dramatic, their parents are killed and Elsa is made queen.  It’s at her coronation ball that the town discovers her curse and she flees fearing her curse has made her an outcast.  At this moment of the movie she builds an elaborate ice castle and belts out the award-winning musical number, Let It Go.

My daughter was in 6th grade when Frozen came out.  And she rode the Frozen fan wagon for a good year. No one could say the phrase “let it go” without her busting out the lyrics to the song.  In the beginning it was cute and we would all burst into song.  But like all things that start out “cute” and get overdone, it became incredibly annoying.  Still to this day, even though she’s now going through her “emo” phase, it’s not unusual for her or my son to burst out in song when those three little words are spoken (and quite frankly I’m guilty of it too.)

In Frozen, Elsa had to let go of her fears and the idea that she was an outcast.  She was actually created for royalty and the curse that was meant to destroy her, became her greatest super power.  How many times have we faced obstacles or setbacks, even felt cursed at times with situations that were created to destroy us.  The enemy will tell us were nothing but a lost cause, or trick us into believing the situation is hopeless.  He’ll do whatever he can to throw us into a pit of despair and keep us there.  But like Queen Esther, God may be saying, “Perhaps you were born for a time a like this?”  (Esther 4:14) Or like Joseph (who was literally thrown into a pit) tells his brothers, “What you intended for evil, God intended for good.”  (Genesis 50:20)

How do we break free from that pit?  We have to let it go.  We have to let go of everything that was created to destroy us. Let go of our past hurts, mistakes, losses.  Let go of our insecurities and doubts.  Let go of the negative self-talk.  Let go of the abusers in our life even.  We have to let it go.  And then, like the saying goes, we have to let go, and let God (take over.)  Trust me, I know all too well that this is easier said than done. But I also know the amazing freedom you will walk in when you finally do let go.

Letting go is a process.  When Elsa belted out that song, she wasn’t free.  In fact, right after her musical breakdown,  she created frozen giants to ward off her sister and others who were trying to save her.  She had to go through the process herself before she could walk in freedom.  That process consists of speaking God’s truth about who we are in Him, aloud over ourselves and our circumstances.  It means we rebuke the enemy’s lies and we call him out for the liar he is.  It means receiving compliments and real love from others.  It also means living a surrendered life to Abba God, stepping out in faith and trusting His lead.

Letting go is similar to jumping off a diving board into unchartered waters near the edge of a dam.  I know, because I did that exact thing two summers ago.  After spending a Sunday afternoon kayaking with dear friends of mine, we gathered near the dam for the men and kids to jump off the diving board.  As I watched I noticed none of the women were jumping in.  We were all just chatting and watching everyone else have a blast being dare devils in the water.  Being somewhat of a dare devil (although at my age it’s much less than what I was as a kid-just as my mom) I decided I needed to step up and be the only woman to take on that diving board.  And I did.  Mind you, there was a grown man in the water ready to catch me if I started to drown.  Nonetheless, when I got to the edge of that diving board and saw how far away from the water I was, I nearly chickened out.  The only thing that pushed me to face my fear was a greater fear of looking like a coward.  I closed my eyes, plugged my nose, thought to myself, “You only live once!” and jumped!  And..I survived.

Although I didn’t start a female diving board club that day-in fact no other women even jumped on that band wagon-I experienced a freedom in letting go of fear.  This is the same freedom we experience when we let go of a toxic relationship, bad eating habits, a habitual sin and negative self-talk.  When we step out on the diving board of life and look down, Jesus is the man in the water, ready to catch us and He will never let us drown.

Whatever situation you’re in today that seeks to destroy the future God has designed for you, I challenge you to step out on the diving board, close your eyes, plug your nose and jump-trusting the Lord to catch you.  If you’re a literal person, stand on your couch or bed and jump picturing Jesus holding out his arms to catch.  Just don’t do anything that will cause an injury or death PLEASE! There’s so much freedom in letting it go.  And since I just wrote those three empowering words, let me help you with the lyrics as you mentally or verbally now break into song:

“The snow glows white on the mountain tonight

Not a footprint to be seen.

A kingdom of isolation,

and it looks like I’m the Queen

The wind is howling like this swirling storm inside

Couldn’t keep it in;

Heaven knows I’ve tried

Don’t let them in,

don’t let them see

Be the good girl you always have to be

Conceal, don’t feel,

don’t let them know

Well now they know

Let it go, let it go

Can’t hold it back anymore

Let it go, let it go

Turn away and slam the door

I don’t care

what they’re going to say

Let the storm rage on.

The cold never bothered me anyway

It’s funny how some distance

Makes everything seem small

And the fears that once controlled me

Can’t get to me at all

It’s time to see what I can do

To test the limits and break through

No right, no wrong, no rules for me,

I’m free!

Let it go, let it go

I am one with the wind and sky

Let it go, let it go

You’ll never see me cry

Here I stand

And here I’ll stay

Let the storm rage on

My power flurries through the air into the ground

My soul is spiraling in frozen fractals all around

And one thought crystallizes like an icy blast

I’m never going back, the past is in the past

Let it go, let it go

And I’ll rise like the break of dawn

Let it go, let it go

That perfect girl is gone

Here I stand

In the light of day

Let the storm rage on

The cold never bothered me anyway!”

One last challenge before I close-that last line, “The cold never bothered me anyway!”- replace the word “cold” with the lies the enemy has been feeding you.  It’s a great start in rebuking the lie and reminding the enemy Who’s really in control.  It’s also a great way to start standing on God’s truth!

Practice Makes Patience

“But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently.”

Romans 8:25 NLT

Patience is not a virtue I was born with.  I’ve said that many times and unfortunately there’s a great truth behind it.  I used to pray for added measures of patience but learned a better way to pray is for opportunities to practice patience.  Yes, you read that correctly-I ask God to give me opportunities to practice patience.  Some of you reading this might be thinking: “Are you crazy?  That’s asking for trouble!”  I’d say “You’re right”-I am asking for trouble because the best way to grow patience is in circumstances that test said patience.  The more opportunities God graces me with, the more my patience will increase.  After all, practice makes perfect, right?

Here’s the area I lack the most patience in-waiting!  It’s the worst for me.  I’m not talking about waiting in line or stuck in a traffic jam (although depending on my day and if I’m in a hurry or not I can lose my patience in those situations also.)  What I’m referring to is waiting in life-on a dream, on an answer to prayer, on a change.  Waiting for the open doors God has for me.  And this “season” of waiting feels like longer than Abraham waited for Isaac or the Israelites waited for their promised land.

What am I waiting for?  God knows what the specifics are but in a nutshell-I’m seeking favor and increase in two specific areas of my life.  And I’ve been waiting for both to come to pass for what seems like an eternity. I have prayed, fasted, attempted to manufacture my own miracles, given up, cried, fell into depression, climbed out the pit and clung to hope again.  I’ve even pulled a Gideon and laid out prayer fleeces asking for specific signs that God heard my prayer and would answer accordingly.

Know what I don’t do-trust God.  Every time I pray I verbally lay my request at the foot of the cross but as soon as I say “Amen” I pick it back up mentally.  I worry, stress, overthink and plan for worst case scenario.  The result-I get in God’s way and end up closing the door myself.  This pattern has took place too much in my life and it’s a terrible habit to break.  In fact just today I woke up sick to my stomach worrying about these requests but unable to find peace, even after praying.  When I ask for a spoken word from Him, He sends me Proverbs 3:5; “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.”  Not exactly what I was looking for.  When I ask God to specifically show me what’s going to happen and His answer is simply, “Stop overthinking and trust Me”-honestly I get quite frustrated.

There are days I loathe reading Proverbs 3:5.  I want life to be like a book. When the story gets too complicated and I’m too impatient to read on, I simply skip to the end to find out what’s going to happen.  But in real life-we don’t get to skip to the end.  There are seasons that we have to just wait it out.  During that season it will seem like everyone around you is getting your “happily ever after” and you’re sentenced to a lifetime of pit dwelling.  I’ve spent many years thinking the same thing.  But that’s simply not true.  We can either believe the lies the enemy feeds us about our future or we can do what Proverbs 3:5 tells us-simply trust God and stop overthinking.  We can also choose to be content right where God has us. (Philippians 4:11) There’s a reason He makes us wait or takes us on a journey that seems to be opposite of where we want to God. Walking with Jesus doesn’t always makes sense (even His disciples had trouble understanding Him at times) but it always leads to His best for us.  And the secret to peace while we wait-praise.  Praying doesn’t always bring peace.  Especially if you pray like me-obsessively at times just begging God to show me the answer or to make this dream happen or bring this desire to pass etc.  But if I just pray my requests, leave them at the cross and then praise God-I find that peace that surpasses all understanding.  It’s exactly what Paul did when he was in prison (and when he wrote the scripture on choosing to be content in all circumstances.)

If you’re like me and feeling like a modern day Abraham waiting nearly 25 years for your Isaac (that desire of your heart to come to fruition) do what the great waiters in the Bible did-trust Him, worship Him, praise Him and serve Him.  I believe one of two things will happen, God will bring your dreams (and mine) to pass, or He will align our hearts with the desires He has for us.  He promises to keep us in perfect peace when we stay (keep) our minds on Him (Isaiah 26:3).

I want to end today’s post with a prayer of confession as I continue to struggle with this season of waiting.  If you’re reading this and struggling too, please say this prayer with me:

Abba God-I confess to You that I am SO over waiting.  I confess my impatience Lord but what I confess most is my lack of trust in You.  Forgive me for getting caught up in what I don’t have, obsessing over dreams that haven’t come to fruition yet and taking my mind and eyes of who You are.  Forgive me for disobeying Proverbs 3:5.  I give the enemy my joy every time I choose to worry instead of just trusting in You.  Father keep me in Your perfect peace and continue to draw my mind and eyes back to You.  I lay my requests, the desires of my heart, down at the cross and this time Daddy, I’m leaving them there. If it’s Your will Father-I trust You to bring them back to me Your way and in Your time.  If it’s not Your will, I trust You to remove what I should not desire and plant your dreams into my heart.  You are the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords and I am Your daughter.  I am learning that this season of waiting is making me into a modern day Esther and the time will come that I was born for.  I praise You for refining me.  Lord-surprise me because today I place my trust back in You.  In Your precious name I pray, Amen.