Strength in the Struggle

I’ve been called, by those who know me best and care for me most:

pitbullA pit bull (“but in a good way”)

A tornado (Um… thanks???)

Stubborn, determined… bull-headed

A bull in a china cabinet

(Okay, so maybe hubby wasn’t complimenting me on this one. In fact, I think he was a bit irritated. Ok, a lot irritated.)

And  yes, there are times when my bull-headed, get-‘er-done attitude creates havoc, but there are other times when I’m thankful. Because there are numerous things in life that require a fair amount of bull-headedness.

Would it surprise you to hear my bullheadedness isn’t new? That hints of it (and at times, explosions of it), can be seen throughout my history?

Where did it come from?

Because I believe God is my sovereign Creator, I also believe a chunk of this was crafted in me when He “knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139). But another chunk, that ever-growing chunk, is the product of struggling. Of encountering an obstacle, choosing to face it head on, and choosing to stay in the fight until the fight is over.

That is a choice each one of us have, each and every day.

When our job becomes stressful, our boss demanding, we have the choice to stay engaged and proactive and to rise above… Or to withdraw, either through a written resignation or an emotional one.

When our marriage feels hopeless, we have the choice to stay in the fight–not with our emotional retreatspouse, but in the fight for our spouse… Or resign, either through divorce or emotional retreat.

Every time we choose to fight, a part of us and that for which we are fighting for grows stronger.

Similarly, every time we choose to cave, a part of us and that for which we are fighting for grows weaker. And it becomes easier to disengage, to walk away… to quit.

I have a friend whose daughter has been battling an insanely difficult and often debilitating illness for a long time. This fall, she went to college. Away from home and the safety of her parents’ house and the close proximity of her primary care physician.

And she struggled. With illness that bombarded her weakened immune system. With discouragement that tore at her very core. With homesickness and frustration and the ever-pressing decision: Should I press on, even if I never make it or fail in the end; or should I retreat emotionally, mentally, and physically?

Her parents watched her struggle with this decision, prayed for God’s clear guidance, and I’m pretty sure, had it been their choice, they would’ve whisked her home, safe and sound.

But this young woman persevered, and this December, she successfully completed her first semester of college.

And yet, this completion was much more than a task checked off, for so much more happened in the journey.

A part of her was strengthened.

And regardless of what career she chooses, or even if she signs up for another semester, that strength will remain, equipping her for her next struggle.

Please hear me, I am not saying everyone with illness should always push through. Sometimes, we must drop a few balls and slow things down, to give ourselves time to rest, heal, and manage effectively those things that remain. (You can read my thoughts on that here.)

What I’m saying is, we should be quick to pray, quick to persevere, and slow to quit. And victoryfor those of us who are parents with breaking hearts as we watch our kids struggle this Christmas… hold on, because the triumph is coming! And when God carries your kiddo over the finish line, they’ll be stronger for it!

Additional posts and resources you might find helpful:

Are We Overstressing Our Teens?

Are You Stuck in Haran

Knowing When to Quit

How Big is Your God

Pummeled by the Waves

Stronger Still by Edna Ellison

livingbygracepic.jpLet’s talk about this! Think back to some of your greatest struggles.

What did God teach you through those?

How are you stronger today because of those struggles?

What are you facing now?

How might your attitude during the struggle affect your inner-growth after ? And what specifically might God be wanting to strengthen in you?

Share your thoughts here in the comments below or at Living by Grace on Facebook.

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Choosing to Trust

Today’s reading: Proverbs 3:1-8, Psalm 139 , James 1:2-8

Today’s focal verse: Proverbs 3:5

Today’s focus: Choosing to trust

This week’s memory verse: 
Proverbs2memoryverse

 This has been an interesting year for me. I’ve seen healings I’ve fervently prayed for not come to pass. I’ve seen a family with young children lose their mother to brain cancer. I’ve seen hurting and hungry children and broken adults. I’ve experienced some health challenges and watched helplessly as my daughter cried out in pain from a bad case of shingles. Worse, I listened to her express her broken heart as she wondered why God would allow her to experience such pain. And there were times when all I could pray was why. Why, Lord, would you let these things happen? Where is Your healing? Can you see us? Do you care?

One morning, while asking those very questions, God gave me this answer, found in Ezekiel 36:9 “See, I care about you and will pay attention to you” (NLT).

And truly, that was all I needed to hear. You see, we won’t always receive answers this side of heaven. Nor will we always be rescued. But we will always be heard. And held. So what do we do when life doesn’t go as we expect? We choose to trust. When we don’t understand the what or the why, we must focus on the Who–knowing God is in complete control and that at every moment, He has us in mind. He is attentive to our cries, and He has a loving purpose for everything He does and everything He allows. But more than that, one day He will set everything right. One day He will wipe away every last tear, will heal every disease and heartache. So hold on, beloved, for our bridegroom is coming and oh, what a party He has planned for us!

Today as you read Beth Farley’s devotion, prayerfully direct your thoughts onto the nature of God. Choose to trust Him, for He is worthy.

GE DIGITAL CAMERABeth Ann Farley is a dear friend of mine and one of our Yahoo Bible Study group members. She is married with three grown children. She lives in Kansas City, MO where she serves as librarian. She loves to read, write, decorate and spend as much time as possible outside with her Peek-A-Poo. Beth is a lover of the Lord. “He is my-everything and I can’t start a day without visiting with Him.” Beth came to know the Lord when she was 30 years old and has served Him on committee’s such as Missions Outreach, Local Missions, Diaconate Committee, Youth Committee, and was a church secretary for several years. Beth loves Women’s Bible Studies, has hosted several in each one of her homes that she has lived in and has led a few as well. Beth is now taking time in life to move forward with her writing in whatever way God directs her.

Visit her online at: http://firsthalfday1.wordpress.com/

Proverbs 3:5 in several versions

New King James:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;

New Living Translation

Trust in the Lord with all your heart;
do not depend on your own understanding.

American Standard Translation

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;

Amplified Bible

 Lean on, trust in, and be confident in the Lord with all your heart and mind and do not rely on your own insight or understanding.

No matter how many ways the above scripture is written, it means the same thing; trusting in God and not myself. I had an opportunity to chat with a close relative the other day about the shooting in Connecticut. She is a mother of three young children and about ready to have another. She told me that she didn’t want her kids to go back to school and did not understand why God would do such a terrible thing.

I had to let her words soak in for a few before I answered. I wanted to be very careful and wise because she is not really a believer. She is not sure what she believes in. Before answering, I quickly asked God that His words come from my mouth, not my own because I was sure to botch it up.

I told her that I believed that God did not make that happen. He may have allowed it but for reasons we can’t possibly understand and won’t understand until we meet Him face to face. I shared with her the above scripture about trusting in God and not in her own thoughts and strengths.  I also spoke to her about Isaiah 55:8 where God tells us, “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts, says the Lord. And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.” NLT I also told her that so often I will have circumstances arise and not know why but if I do trust in the Lord then I know everything will work out fine.

Today I pray as you continue to study Proverbs 3 that you will ask the Lord to give you the strength and discipline to trust in Him and not in yourself. I pray that when you are approached by an unbeliever or someone who is just not certain about events that make no sense, that you are trusting in God to give you the best guidance possible. I pray that if you are hit yourself by something during this study that tempts you to quit, that you just trust and not give up.

Are you truly trusting God in all that you do? In all that you say? In all that is going on in your world right now? I ask myself these questions as well. I have to trust. Without trust, I have nothing.

Remember; no matter how many versions of Proverbs 3:5 you read; it all comes down to the one important word…

TRUST!

LET’S TALK ABOUT THIS!

1) List five things you know to be true about God. Now pause and prayerfully think about His nature in light of whatever difficulties you are facing. Fill in the following:

Because He is loving ___________________________________________________.

Because He is faithful __________________________________________________.

Because He is all-knowing _______________________________________________.

Because He is with me __________________________________________________.

2) Yesterday, we learned the heart means the inner man, or the core of who we are. What does it mean to trust in the Lord with *all* your heart?

3) Psalm 139 is one of my favorite passages. Take a moment to read the chapter. Do any verses stand out to you? What might God be trying to say to you this morning?

Here’s what stood out to me:

God examines my heart–searches deep to my very core and knows me intimately, even better than I know myself. (v. 1)

He goes before me, to guide me, and stands behind me, to catch me when I fall or slip. Like a loving, attentive, gentle father, He places His hand upon me. (v. 5, 10)

He knows what I will face tomorrow, why I will face it, and how He will see me through it. Nothing I encounter is by accident, and because God’s loving hand is always upon me, I can rest assured everything I encounter is truly for my best. (v. 16)

God is constantly thinking of me. (v. 17)

4) Now I will ask you again, what might God be trying to say to you this morning? Will you trust Him? Will you walk with Him, not dragging behind, complaining about the journey, nor forging ahead in impatience, but instead, humbly matching your step with His, trusting He knows what is best for you?

5) Pause to consider the following passage:

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.

If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.

I’ve given you a lot to think about this morning. I’d love to know how God used this devotional or the suggested passages to speak to you. Join the conversation here, in the comments below, on Facebook, or at our online Bible study Group.

Click to join ProverbsStudy

First weed down!

About a week ago, I shared my struggles with discouragement. It’s funny how often I want to keep these internal struggles to myself, to present a false image of spirituality to others, but I am beginning to realize how important authenticity is. In my latest novel (still in the editing stages) the majority of Alice and Trent’s struggles arise from self-isolation. Sure, they’ve got issues. Major issues. (Don’t we all?) But I think their issues would be much more manageable if they would only reach out and let others help them. We weren’t meant to go it alone. As I like to say, we’ve all got skeletons in our closet but they’ll never go away if we keep the doors locked.

I think there’s something freeing about open, honest confession–when we share our deepest struggles with one another and allow others to help us. Not only does it free us to live truly authentic lives, it also adds a level of accountability. When I shared my struggles with discouragement with you, it added an additional level of motivation to overcome them. And now, when I share my first step on this road of truth-claiming, (I call it this because I am tossing out the lies and laying hold to the truth I have in Christ), knowing my previous struggles, you can rejoice with me. So it’s a win-win situation!

The other night I was over-tired. I had company coming from Uruguay and I really wanted to finish the first draft of my current novel before they arrived, so I was pulling some horrendous hours. Mind-numbing, eye-blurring hours. But I did it! By Monday night, I had written almost 89,000 words and had three scenes left and one more day to write them. No problem, right? After two months (I write fast. Either that or I’m slightly ocd, but that’s another post.) I could finally see the finish line. You’d think I’d be rejoicing, but I wasn’t. As I set my computer aside, a wave of discouragement washed over me, threatening to steal my joy of accomplishment. Self-doubt spewed through my mind like popcorn kernels popping off a hot kettle and those tiny little weeds of doubt tried to sink their roots into my heart.

So what did I do? I grabbed my weed-killer! The first thing I did was make the determination that I would not, would not, absolutely would not, allow those nasty thoughts to camp out in my brain. I threw them out like the trash they were. I have a phrase I like to repeat to myself when I am frightened, discouraged or sad. It’s “Just you and me God.” I find myself saying that a lot, but it reminds me that none of this peripheral junk matters. God loves me, and I’m holding on to Him, and whether my novels thrive or flop is inconsequential.

And then I went to bed, in peace. The next morning as I was reading my Bible, God spoke words of encouragement that both reaffirmed my commitment the night before and strengthened my heart to complete the final leg of my first. It came from two verses. The first I just happened upon as I was flipping to my page marker. It was in Exodus 34:6 and it reminded me of who God is.

“Then the LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the LORD. And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness…”

I tucked this in the back pocket of my mind and moved on to the Psalms. I follow along verse by verse and just happened to be on Psalm 139 this morning. We’ve all heard this passage a hundred times and would be quick to agree with its premise. We are created by God, known by God, loved by God and guided by God. But this morning, verse 16 jumped out at me.

Psalm 139: 16  “Your eyes saw my unformed body.  All the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be.”

Putting those two verses together annihilated any remaining weeds and filled my heart with excitement for the day to come because I knew whether this novel soared or fell flat on its face, it was all part of God’s plan for me. All of my days are written in His book, even those I may initially deem to be failures. And because God is a God of love and mercy, even those painful days when I feel like I have egg on my face are steps forward as God works out His loving plan. Which means all I have to do is take that next step, resting in His loving, guiding and protecting hand.

You may be happy to know that I completed my novel and I am now working on a book proposal which I hope to present to an agent by the end of the month, and I’m sure a few weeds will try to sprout as insecurities fight for prominence, but laying hold of the promises in these two verses, I’ve already got my hand on the trigger! Watch out crabgrass, here I come!

Just you and me, God. Just you and me.