Bittersweet Manna

I think throughout our lives we wrestle with two overarching spiritual questions: Is there a God? Where is God in times of difficulty?

Our faith starts by first questioning if there is a God at all. Is there a power greater? Is there a bigger plan? Is there order in the chaos? For some, these questions need concrete irrefutable answers. For others, they look around their world and they feel there is substantial evidence there is a God.

Then I think we move into the stage of wondering if God cares and where He is in the midst of our struggle. Does He see me? Can He hear the cries?

After surviving a hardship, we resolve those questions. Yes, there is a God, and yes, He does see and care.

Inevitably heartache strikes again. But this time it’s different. This time we know God exists, we know there is a plan. This time we lean into the knowledge that we have not been abandoned in our pain. We learned all of that the last time.

This time is different because we see the goodness, the provision in the midst of the struggle. As difficult as things are, we see… We see the manna.

Manna. Translated literally it means “what is it.” The what is it nourished the nation of Israel for 40 years as they wondered in the wilderness after being set free from 400 years of slavery. They were instructed to gather what they needed each morning but not to gather more than that for it would rot.   Manna nourished body and soul. It fed belly and faith.

But it was 40 long years of manna.

Like the Israelites in the desert, we see and are being nourished by the manna that is coming down from heaven. We know and see all of this but… but our hearts are still breaking. Our stomachs are still sick. We are still aching with sadness and worry. The goodness and provision may be helping our external world, but our internal worlds are still in upheaval.

What do we do when we can see the provision, but we are weary with the journey?

Have you had this experience before? You can see the manna on the ground and have even started to really believe it will be there each morning so you’ve stopped gathering more than you need. You see the manna and it is truly amazing and you’re grateful.

But I think we can reach the point, like the Israelites in the desert, where we are tired of the manna and we just want to get to the end of the journey. We like to judge the Israelites for their lack of faith and ingratitude. I mean, God was providing a cloud by day, a pillar of fire by night, and manna to eat and fill them each day. How could they have been so weak of faith and ungrateful? It is easy to point the finger from the cheap seats.

It is so easy.

It is so easy until you have been journeying for 40 years. It is so easy until you realize the bittersweetness of manna. I don’t know if everyone gets to this point in their journey, but for those of us that do, we know the beauty of grace. We know the breathtaking, awe-inspiring experience of seeing the grace in the wilderness… of seeing how we are being taken care of in ways that far surpass what we expect.

But we also know that there are some days when the manna tastes bitter. And we find ourselves in the confusion of painful gratitude… desperately trying to remind ourselves there will be an end. Desperately trying to fix our eyes on the grace around us.

But I don’t know that grace is always meant to be a painkiller. Grace is what helps us keep getting up every morning. It is the oxygen we receive when we think we can’t take another breath. Sometimes, though, we have to sit in that confusing space where we feel every ounce of discomfort despite the presence of amazing grace. It is such a truly difficult place.

I think that is the tough part about faith and hope. We can’t keep going without faith and hope, but they aren’t exit ramps from the journey.

It’s like if I break my arm. I know that it will heal, that the doctor will put a cast on it, and eventually it will be good as new. However, that knowledge does not stop the throbbing pain of a bone split in two. My arm still hurts.

Our hearts are the same. We get to the point in our faith journey where we have traveled long enough in the wilderness that we know we’re not alone, but we’re tired and our feet hurt and our hearts hurt. That is the place of hard faith. That isn’t the Sunday School felt board faith. It is the tears streaming down your face, falling to your knees type of faith. You can’t get through the trial without faith, but faith doesn’t anesthetize our pain.

Still feeling angry, sad, hurt, wanting it to be over doesn’t necessarily mean you aren’t grateful or you don’t have faith. It means you are human. It means the Israelites were human. It means we understand that God and Life coexist. God is God and Life is unfair.

What do you do when you’re not questioning if God exists or if He is there? What do you do if you are struggling to find comfort in the provision around you? How do you learn to rest in the green pastures of goodness while still honestly addressing the struggles in your life?

We can be grateful and wonder when this season is going to be over all at the same time. We can be grateful and have a broken heart all at the same time. If we are going to make it through the wilderness, we have to learn to hold those two opposing realities in the palm of our hand. We have to allow our souls to grieve and wail and our hearts to hope and heal.

What is the manna in your wilderness currently? How are you holding the two opposing realities of being grateful for the manna but tired of the journey?

August 2000, Crying in Church, and My Personal Saturday

Philip Yancey, in his book Disappointment with God, says that Good Friday, Saturday, and Easter Sunday, represent “the three day pattern- tragedy, darkness, triumph-… (that) can be applied to all our times of testing.” There is the unthinkable loss and tragedy of Friday, followed by the questions, grief, and despair of Saturday, and then the redemptive healing of Sunday.

We can talk about being bold and bright. We can talk about believing that we are worthy and that our worth comes from grace. We can talk about living brave and stepping into the arena. We can talk about all those things, and all those things are fine and well, but when you find yourself stuck in Saturday, when you’re in The Middle, that stuff doesn’t really matter.

I agree with Philip Yancey that the pattern of tragedy, darkness, triumph is one that is found over and over in our lives. The Fridays are so painful and the Sundays are so joyful. It seems over our entire life we cycle thru this three-stage period, but sometimes it seems like we spend a lot of our time in Saturday.

Years ago, I found myself in a prolonged Saturday. My life had slowly been tumbling downward until January 2000 when everything crashed. Over the course of 10 days my entire life changed… I withdrew from grad school, moved home, made a decision to leave my life in music, ended an almost four year relationship that left me lost and broken, and enrolled in a new university. The next 12 months were my Middle… they were my Saturday… and they were bleak. I was depressed; I was anxious. I rarely went out with friends. I stayed in my apartment, thought, and watched old episodes of Beverly Hills 90210 and Dallas.

I wrestled with God in a way that I had never done before. I went from being angry- very angry- and wondering where He had been over the past four years and why He hadn’t stopped this out-of-control-train-of-chaos that had become my life. I wondered how He could pay me back like this for those years of faithful church attendance, praying, and living a life that was above the norm.

Then after some months of being angry and realizing that was getting me nowhere, I realized that God had not necessarily abandoned me, but baby step by baby step I had abandoned Him. I had ignored the red flags. I had refused the help. I kept pushing against a brick wall wondering why it wouldn’t move and then getting mad that I was battered, bruised, and tired.

It was during this period that it was hard for me to be with God. I felt that I had ruined everything. The relationship was damaged beyond repair. You can only ask so much of God, right? And then He eventually throws His hands up in frustration, right? And then He takes everything away, right? It’s the twisted version of the parable of the talents.

All I wanted during this time was to be free. I did not know what freedom looked like, and a large part of me believed I would always be damaged, but there had to be some sort of freedom from this Middle.

One Sunday morning in August, I was standing in church and a song came across the screen:

You are beautiful beyond description Too marvelous for words Too wonderful of comprehension Like nothing ever seen or heard Who can grasp you infinite wisdom Who can fathom the depth of your love You are beautiful beyond description
Majesty enthroned above




And I stand, I stand in awe of you I stand, I stand in awe of you Holy God to whom all praise is due
I stand in awe of you.

And when I started to sing the words of the chorus, I just stopped. It was like someone was squeezing my throat and I couldn’t sing. I stood there, hung my head, and started to cry. All I could think was, “I am not in awe of you right now. I’m not. I’m hurt and angry and broken and I just want this pain to stop.”

We go through phases with God during the Saturdays of our lives. We wonder where He is. We rail against Him. We shake our fist and blame Him for our plight. Or we blame ourselves. We don’t feel good enough to come to Him. We don’t know how to come to Him because we don’t know what to say.

What we discover, though, when we get to the other side is that Saturday, The Middle, changes us. There is no going back…thankfully. There is only moving forward.

I drove home from church that day numb not really knowing what to do or where to go from there. As I drove home I had the strangest feeling that I was not alone.   And later I realized that I was not the only one crying that Sunday morning.

In the Gospel of John, we read that shortly before the Crucifixion Jesus received word that his dear friend Lazarus was sick. He made his way to the home of his dear friends, Mary and Martha, where he learned that Lazarus had died four days prior. Mary and Martha were grieving; others in the town were grieving. Jesus knew what was going to happen. Jesus knew he was going to bring Lazarus back to life. He knew the end of the story. Yet we have that most famous, shortest verse of Scripture: Jesus wept.

Jesus wept, not over the top, demonstrative tears, but the translation says silent tears as he saw his dear friends sadness and grief. This image tells us we have a God who loves us to the point that He aches for us. It’s like a parent who sees their child sad and brokenhearted but knows that there will be another tryout, another boyfriend, another opportunity. But their heart aches because their child’s heart aches regardless of the fact they know this disappointment is temporary. God’s love for us is similar… times a thousand.

I think God weeps with us. I do not think He sits idly by, unemotional, untouched. I think His heart breaks when we feel we can’t come to Him, for whatever reason, and we want to. I think His heart breaks when we mourn and grieve even though He knows the rest of the story. And I think on that sunny August morn, God wept with me.

I take great comfort in that thought… that I was not alone that day or in those months and years. I was not alone that Sunday in August, but yet not fully able to take hold of that which was being offered. That would come a few months later. The redemptive healing of my Sunday came one October morning when I finally surrendered and let my old self die so that my new self could be born.

I learned in the months and years later that I had not damaged by relationship with God. I had not pushed Him so far away that He never wanted to come back. He had never left me in the first place. I was not broken beyond repair.

I realized that no matter how long your Saturday may seem the redemption and restoration and resurrection of Sunday always comes. You are never left. You are never alone. That is the promise and the hope of Sunday.

Have a blessed Easter, friends.

I'm a Quitter

If you follow me on Facebook, you know that I love those pictures with quotes on them. Recently, I was scrolling through my News Feed and saw one that said quitting is never an option. Immediately I heard Eye of the Tiger in my mind and images of Rocky and football teams practicing in the rain and the U.S. Hockey team doing that skating drill over and over in Miracle flashed through my mind. (I LOVE sports movies. I am in no way an athlete, but sports movies and documentaries move me to chills and tears.)

After I came to from my movie montage daydream, I thought about how often we hear statements like that. Never quit. Never Give Up. Those statements are indeed inspiring and encouraging. We do have to learn to keep going. We have to push through, hang in there. A life of always giving up ends up not being much of a life.

But this time when I read this quote, I didn’t think Yeah charge the mountain, fight the good fight. Instead, I thought…

I’m a quitter.

I thought for a few more moments and decided yep I’m a quitter and I am totally okay with it.

We think of the word quit as one of the worst four letter words out there. It’s right up there with lose and lazy. You never want to be a loser. Heaven forbid someone call you lazy, and you never, EVER want to be seen as a quitter. We run from these labels as if they were ghosts chasing us in a dark forest.

But you know, as I think about all the things I have quit in my life, I have to say I’m pretty thankful that sometimes I’m a quitter.

I’m thankful I quit certain toxic relationships. I’m thankful I quit blaming myself for things that weren’t my responsibility. I’m thankful I quit music so I could pursue teaching. I’m thankful I quit teaching so I could pursue a career in counseling. I’m thankful I quit being afraid to leave my comfort zone and started taking leaps of faith. I’m thankful I quit wrestling with certain decisions and took action. I’m thankful I quit being angry with certain people. I’m thankful I am working on quitting worrying about what people think of me. I’m thankful I have been a quitter.

I think most people fall into one of two camps- There are those that quit everything and never push through the difficulty of hard work, uncertainty, and disappointment. And then there are the people who never quit and stay long past the point of healthy dedication and perseverance. They never quit because they don’t want to be perceived as a quitter, and they’ve developed a distorted sense of loyalty and commitment. They never quit because they are afraid. They never quit because they have lost all sense of self and what is right and wrong and how they deserve to be treated. They never quit, and instead their spirit slowly dies.

Yes, sometimes it is okay to quit. Sometimes the healthiest thing you can do is quit. Sometimes we have to become broken enough to discover we are strong enough to quit. Sometimes quitting is the thing that will save your soul.

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One of our most difficult tasks in life is learning to discern the difference between when we should keep moving forward and when we should lift our hands in the air and say I’m done. How do we know when to quit, move on, try a new direction, and how do we know when to stick it out, pursue, and persevere? There is not a formula for deciphering this equation. Every situation breeds a different answer.   Every story requires a different ending. Finding a balance between quitting and persevering in your life is the mark of health and maturity.

If you quit everything, then you will never learn the beauty of hard work nor will you learn the depth of your own strength and faith.   Conversely, if you hold onto everything, you may never know the power of healing and the exhilaration of letting go and trying something new.  It is emotionally dangerous to live under the notion that quitting is always wrong. Quitting can be the doorway to freedom and wholeness.

Yeah I’ve been a quitter in my life, and I’ve also been a keeper on-er. Knowing when to hang in there and knowing when to surrender have been some of the hardest decisions I have ever made.   I’m thankful for those times when I haven’t given up and hung in there, and I’m also thankful for the times I reached the end of myself and quit.

The new year is just days away, and as you are contemplating resolutions and major and minor life changes, think about where in your life you need to persevere and where you need to quit. Ask yourself if you need to quit something but are afraid to do so. Challenge yourself to wisely discern the difference between when you need to dig deep and find extra faith and strength and when you need to quit. My friends, here’s to knowing when to hang on and knowing when to quit in 2015!

What do you need to quit as you wrap up 2014 and prepare for the new year? What have you quit in your past that opened the door to healing and new opportunities? How do you discern when to quit and when to persevere?

Thoughts for Thursday... Climbing Mountains and Gaining Wisdom

Last week we discussed the curious truth about pain. Pain tells us something. It tells something has happened and something needs to change. Even though we understand pain and even though we know our pain will not last forever, pain is still… painful. Which leads to the bigger question- how do we survive our pain?

I am a super visual person. I constantly think in images. Years ago when I was going through a particularly painful period of life this is the image that played in my mind over and over like a song on repeat.

You are standing at the bottom of a mountain in the pouring rain. The rain is coming down so hard that the mountain has turned into a mountain of mud. Your eyes can barely cut through the sheets of rain and dense fog. You start to climb. You climb a few feet finding a rock for footing here and a branch to grab onto there. Your legs push you; your arms pull you. Then your foot slips, your tired hands loosen their grip, and you slide back to the bottom.

You start climbing again and this time you know which rock can steady your foot and which branch can bear your tug. You climb a little higher this time, grab another branch, reach for another tree root. And then you slide down again. You’re drenched. You’re covered in mud. Your knees are skinned and your hands are blistered.

But you keep getting up and you keep climbing. You crawl through the mud. You grab the branches and rocks that you know will hold you because they have been tested in your previous attempts. You learn your way rock by rock, branch by branch, and slide by slide. Each time you make it a little quicker to the point where you lost it previously because you know what worked and what didn’t.

You crawl and climb, climb and slide, and repeat that cycle as many times as you have to until you reach the mountain top... that safe haven. The slides down the mountain weren’t mistakes or failures or setbacks. They were lessons in knowing where to put your trust and where to place your footing.

Wisdom is nothing more than healed pain.  Yes, indeed.  How do we gain the wisdom and heal the pain?  We climb the mountain.  We keep climbing the mountain.   Are you ready to start climbing?

The Truth About Pain

Sometimes when I scan my bookshelves I have to chuckle because I’m rather sure Amazon must think I am a pretty troubled soul.  My bookshelves and my Amazon Wish List are filled with titles about loss, disappointment, and pain.  I suppose it is a liability of my profession, but even before I became a therapist, I was drawn to reading and understanding how we deal with and overcome pain in our lives.  I realized a couple of years ago that I think one of the reasons I keep reading about the darker side of life is that I keep searching for new answers.  I think deep down I’m holding out hope that maybe someone has found a new take on heartache or new research that shows how we can avoid pain or make pain stop once it starts.  I think I secretly hope that when I click on those articles on Yahoo that promise 5 Easy Steps to Let Go of Resentment and Disappointment that there really will be five easy steps that I haven’t heard before. Sadly, that is never the case.

Several years ago, though, I did read something that changed how I saw pain and the purpose of pain in our lives.  Yes, I said the purpose of pain.

In Philip Yancey’s Where is God When it Hurts, he talks about the work of Dr. Paul Brand. Dr. Brand worked primarily with leprosy patients.  Probably like most people, my understanding of leprosy has been shaped by what I learned in Sunday School as a child.  In my mind, leprosy was this horrible skin disease from back in “Jesus times”, and lepers had scabby skin, open wounds, and had to shout “Unclean, unclean” if anyone came near.

I was surprised to learn that leprosy is not a skin disease.  Leprosy affects the nervous system, and it takes away a person’s ability to feel pain.  It makes a person completely numb to pain.  Consequently, when they injure themselves they may not realize how significant the injury, which leads to further harm, infections, gaping wounds, and eventual lost limbs.

Their inability to feel pain actually makes their life and health worse.

Interesting.

To aid his patients, Dr. Brand and his engineers developed a type of glove with sensors that signaled a warning when the patient was unknowingly hurting himself.  Initially the signal was a loud alarm, but Dr. Brand found that despite the loud noise signaling the patients to stop what they were doing, they would continue in their activity even though they knew they were hurting themselves.

Dr. Brand then tried using a flashing light and eventually resorted to using a slight electric shock to get the patients to stop their unintentionally self destructive behavior.  He discovered, though, that patients started switching off the shock feature when they really wanted to do something that they knew would trigger the warning.  Self-will proved stronger than self-care.  He eventually gave up on the project because it proved too costly and completely ineffective.

Philip Yancey said in conclusion, “By definition, pain is unpleasant, enough so to force us to withdraw our fingers from a stove.  Yet that very quality saves us from destruction.  Unless the warning signal demands response, we might not heed it.

Pain forces us to stop.  Pain forces us to listen.

Physical pain is the body’s alarm system. If you sprain your ankle running, pain tells you something wrong has occurred and gets you to pay attention to the wounded area so you don’t keep hurting yourself.  Pain tells us something very important.  It tells us that something has happened and that something is wrong.

Emotional pain is our heart’s alarm system telling us something is wrong and that something has (or has not) happened.  Heartache and disappointment, the forms of pain we wish to avoid most in life, force us to stop and re-evaluate.   Emotional pain signals to us that we need to do something differently.  Maybe the signal is telling us to try something new.  Maybe it’s telling us to pause and wait for more information.  Maybe it’s telling us to move on entirely.

Pain can serve a purpose.  Sadness, disappointment, discouragement can serve a purpose.  These difficult experiences force us to pay attention and to re-evaluate our actions, our choices, and our decisions.

Pain is the siren of our heart and the validator of our life experience.  It signals when something has happened and it validates that, yes, it was a big deal.  Pain says Stop. Mourn. Grieve. Rage. Weap.  What happened to you mattered.  What is happening IS a big deal.  Don’t minimize it.  Don’t brush it under the rug.  Don’t numb it.  Don’t avoid it.

Without pain- without heartbreak, loneliness, disappointment- we sometimes would not know when to stop and we may end up doing ourselves more harm.  We wouldn’t know when to get out of the relationship.  We wouldn’t know when to leave the job.  We wouldn’t know when to say no and set boundaries.  Pain can actually be a great teacher and instigator of change, if we let it.  Yes, we may convince ourselves that numbing, ignoring, and avoiding are the better options, but they are not.  Being emotionally numb does not lead to NOT being hurt; it just leads to NOT knowing when the hurt is being done.

But pain is never pleasant.  As much as I have read and heard “Rejoice in your suffering,” that is often a hard pill for me to swallow because pain hurts, and my survival instinct says avoid pain, numb pain, reject pain.  My survival instinct says all those things, but the seeds of truth and wisdom that try to take root in my mind remind me that pain can have meaning, it is not eternal, and every wound can be bound up and healed.

What is the truth about pain?  The truth about pain is that it always hurts and it is never comfortable, but pain can tell us something.  It can tell us something we need to hear and that just might save us from our own destruction.

What is your pain telling you today? What has your pain told you in the past? How can you embrace your heartache so that it shapes your life rather than stops your life?

Are You in Exile this Christmas?

When I was little, my favorite Christmas carol to play on the piano was O Come, Come Emmanuel.  I loved the contrasting textures in the music, and when it came time to play those glorious chords of Rejoice, Rejoice, I tickled those ivories with all the passion my little fingers could muster.  A few weeks ago, I was singing this same hymn in church and the words of the first verse struck me in a way they never had before. O Come, O Come Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appears.  Rejoice, Rejoice, Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel. 

Mourns in lonely exile…

Exile…

Waiting to get out of Exile…

Emmanuel shall come to thee…

 

What does it mean to be in exile?  To be in exile means to be away from one’s home, to be in foreign territory.  Although political and physical exiles are still realities throughout the world today, I am going to venture to guess none of us have ever experienced that type of exile.

Instead, our experience with exile is less obvious and a little harder to explain.  What does Exile look like in our lives today?  It looks like feeling far from “home”- far from where you would like to be, or thought you would be, in this stage of life.  It looks like struggling in relational exile where there is broken fellowship and no clear path on how to forgive and rebuild trust.  It looks like wrestling in spiritual exile where you wonder why and how long and what is the meaning of all of this.  You feel far from God. You question more and more and soon your questions give way to silence.

We feel our Exiles much more keenly during the Christmas season.  It’s unfortunate, but true.  Just ask anyone in Exile.  Christmas seems to shine a big, blinding spotlight on our Exile.  Maybe it is the marking of another year and the evaluation that inevitably comes alongside.  Where am I compared to where I was a year ago?  Did I do this?  Did I accomplish that?

Or maybe it is because we all have in our minds the picture of what our lives and relationships are supposed to look like at Christmas.  When your “Christmas Card” doesn’t look like everyone else’s it can feel like nails screeching down the chalkboard of your heart.

Or maybe this is your first, or fifteenth, Christmas without your loved one or that someone special or the answer to your heart’s prayer for a child.  It’s hard to feel the wonder of Christmas when we keep tripping over the gaping void of an absent parent, spouse, or child.

We don’t choose our Exiles.  We don’t choose the timing or the circumstances, and we really don’t get to choose when they end.  We can choose, though, how we move through them.  Your Exile can make you bitter or it can make you better.  That’s the part you do get to determine.  So if you are in Exile this Christmas, here are two things to ponder.

Keep living.  Keep showing up in your life. When we are in Exile our temptation is to either passively wait or find a shortcut.  Passively waiting keeps you from growing, and searching for a shortcut keeps you running in circles.  Keep living.  Don’t delay some decisions or choices in your life because you are waiting for other things to happen.  Waiting for your Exile to be over before you start living your “real life” is not always the smartest choice.  Keep showing up in your life and taking care of one day at a time.  The Israelites had to wander for 40 years in the wilderness, but they kept walking!  You have to keep climbing the mountain no matter how many times you slide to the bottom.  The slides to the bottom are not losses- they are opportunities to climb again. Only this time you know the paths that will and will not work.

Know what you KNOW When you are in Exile you have to remember what you KNOW- not what you feel or what you’re presently telling yourself, but what you KNOW.  What do you KNOW?  What is your hope based on?  I KNOW I cannot always see the big picture.  I KNOW that I am not alone.  I KNOW that everything can be redeemed.  I don’t always feel these things, but I KNOW them.  Some days what you KNOW feels like a great comfort that lifts you high above the clouds, and other days it is just the mustard seed of courage you need to keep moving forward an inch at a time.  Do you know what you KNOW?

 

Are you in Exile this Christmas?  Yes, whether it is your first or fifteenth year without your loved one, your realized dream, your restored relationship, or your answered prayer, this year may feel especially difficult.  In years like this it may feel challenging to rest in the Good News of Christmas.

What is the Good News of Christmas?  The Good News of Christmas is that we do not stay in Exile.  It does end.  There is freedom. There will be big, banging chords of Rejoicing.

So Fear not, my dear friends, I bring you Good News of Great Joy, which shall be to all people…. There are plans for you… plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future… for this holy night the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

That’s the Good News.  May you have a blessed Christmas.

Thoughts for Thursday

 

I have had this quote hanging in my office since I became a counselor.  It is one of my favorites.  So true.  So wise.

We cannot always choose the circumstances of our lives, but we can choose how we face those circumstances.  Your past, your pain, your disappointment do not have to define you.  Instead, you can let that pain or that grief or that sorrow shape you.   You can choose how you are changed by your circumstances.

What are you working on today?  Are you working on being miserable or are you working on being strong?

Take care!

Angels Encamping Round About

My Grandmama and Granddaddy were the quintessential grandparents.  When I was a little girl, I was often surprised when I saw pictures of friends’ grandparents and they did not look like Grandmama and Granddaddy.  Grandmama always wore a dress and was a master cook, seamstress, and hostess.  She used to say she could fill her house from top to bottom with the number of pound cakes she’d made over the years.  It seemed she was always working on an afghan or baby booties for someone she knew.  She was generous, loving yet firm, and unknowingly quite funny. Granddaddy was a preacher, having been ordained in the Primitive Baptist Church in 1939, and preached up until he left this world in 1999.  I never saw him in anything but a button down shirt, dress pants and dress shoes, and he wore a fedora even in the 1990’s.    When I was very young I often imagined that Santa must be a lot like Granddaddy (except, of course, Santa had a beard, a red velvet hat, and owned reindeer).  Even to this day when I read the verse in Twas the Night Before Christmas about Santa’s twinkling eyes and his jolly laugh that made his belly shake like a bowl full of jelly, I still think of Granddaddy.  Granddaddy was quite jolly, his eyes often twinkled, and he had the most wonderfully hearty laugh.

 

I have numerous memories of Grandmama and Granddaddy.   I remember our weekly visits at their house on Sunday afternoons.  I remember Grandmama always had a baggie of marshmallows and other little candies in her purse when I went to church with them.  I remember the feel of their sofa and sitting next to Grandmama as her hands rapidly worked the yarn and crochet needle with effortless meticulousness.   I remember Granddaddy sitting in his easy chair studying his Bible and humming hymns.

My most treasured stories involving my grandparents occurred years before I was even born.  Grandmama and Granddaddy were a young married couple raising their children during the Great Depression.  Although I would never want to label or oversimplify anyone, I do feel that this fact alone summarizes so much of who they were.  They were strong, principled, hard working, sacrificing, and faith-filled individuals who loved God, country, and family.   They married in 1928 and in 1931 purchased 14 acres in Conley, Georgia.  Granddaddy immediately began working on the small brick house that would house five children, welcome 17 grandchildren, over 30 great grandchildren, and countless house guests, and host numerous family gatherings over the next 66 years.   Granddaddy had immense faith in God’s provision and care, and it was this faith that carried them through very difficult times.

In the middle of the Depression, work was hard to come by and sometimes Granddaddy would walk seven miles to the nearest streetcar, take the streetcar into town to work at whatever job he’d learned was hiring, and then walk the seven miles home at the end of the day.  During a particularly lean period, Granddaddy learned that the government was giving out flour and other supplies in a town eleven miles away.  He decided to go after giving it much thought, but while walking to Jonesboro, his heart was heavy and unsettled with receiving what he saw as a handout.  After prayer and thought, he decided to turn around and walk home believing that God’s faithfulness was greater and would do more to meet his needs than any government issued flour and lard.

Some years after this incident, someone asked Granddaddy, “Why do you have such a big yard to mow and care for?”  Granddaddy replied, no doubt with a twinkle in his eye and a peace-filled smile on his face, “It’s for the angels encamping round about.”

 

In particularly trying times, I reflect often on this story.  I picture that little house and the spirit of peace and comfort covering it.  I picture that dear man and woman living life and surviving trials and difficulties all the while placing their faith and trust in something Greater, and I remind myself that that is my spiritual DNA.  That strength and faith lies within me and is there for the taking.  I hold onto that image of Granddaddy walking that long road and of him gazing out over his conscientiously cared for acreage, and it gives me encouragement and hope.  It reminds me that I have present help in times of trouble.  It reminds me to lift my eyes and remember from whence cometh my help.

Our memories are powerful.  Images, people, places, and things fill our memories and provide us with hope and courage to face the trials and unknowns in our lives.  These memories become almost like visual mantras that we can call to mind in our downtrodden moments.  We can play these images over and over in our minds gleaning the strength we need to face another day or walk another mile.

What are the memories or stories that give you hope and encouragement?  What is a visual mantra you could create today?

 

 

I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.  Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.  This poor man called, and the Lord heard him;
he saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them. Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.  Psalm 34:4-8

Seeing the Big Picture

Several years ago, my husband and I drove to New Orleans to attend my cousin’s wedding.  For whatever reason, we did not have anyone to pet-sit our beloved miniature dachshund, Lucy, so she joined us on our venture south.  While driving to NOLA, we decided to stop by “the loveliest village on the plains.”  My husband is a proud graduate of Auburn, and over the years, I have adopted his alma mater and its spirited traditions with great enthusiasm.   Obviously, I could not resist stopping for some priceless photo ops of Lucy at some of the famous Auburn landmarks.  We parked our car and let Lucy walk around the manicured grounds of Samford Hall while I wildly snapped pictures.

At this point in our story you should know one unique fact about Lucy:  she is terrified of cars.  She is so terrified of cars that she actually refuses to go on walks and hates being anywhere near moving traffic.  Cars and busy streets are Lucy’s kryptonite.

As much as I was enjoying our family outing, poor Lucy was having a mild anxiety attack as cars were whizzing past her on College Street.  Eventually we decided to walk back to the car, and knowing Lucy would have none of crossing the four lanes of traffic, I picked her up and started walking across the street.  Lucy trembled and shook with every step across the street, and I leaned down and said, “Lucy, it is okay.  I am not going to let anything happen to you.”  As I said that, I realized my perspective of what was going on was very different from Lucy’s.

Lucy stands about eight inches off the ground.  This is what the world looks like to Lucy…

 

With her four-inch legs, she feels every vibration and rumble.  Wheels are huge and cars are so big they take up her entire sightline.  Everything seems gigantic and overpowering.  Everything seems intimidating.

By contrast, this is what I saw that day…

I could see much further.  My viewpoint was much different.  I could see farther down the road, if trouble was coming, and when it was going to pass.  My perspective made it very easy for me to trust and believe that we were safe.  Lucy’s perspective, on the other hand, was limited and narrow.

As we crossed the street, I thought how often am I like Lucy.  How often are we all like Lucy?  We only see what is right before our eyes, and it seems intimidating and scary.  We feel totally overwhelmed by what we are facing, and sometimes we are sure it is going to overtake us. We fear being trapped and doomed to permanently reside in this place of uncertainty.

How often do we forget that we are not alone in our journey?  How often do we try to rely on our own shortsighted vision and strength?  It is so easy to be consumed with worry and fear.  It is so easy to forget there is a bigger picture, a larger vision for our life that we cannot fully imagine.   It is so easy to forget we are not alone, and we will not be left in our troubled, fearful state.   Lo, I am with you always…

Your current heartache, although deeply painful, is a portion of your picture, but it is not the entire portrait of your life.  You were not created to reside in the valley of your troubles; you were created to pass through the valley.

 

What would it be like today to trust that there is a bigger picture for your life that you cannot yet see?

How would your life be different if you believed you are not alone on this journey?

How would that type of hope change your life?