When It’s Easter Week And You’re Short On Hope

I sat across from her. An 8:30 breakfast on Wednesday of Easter week. But we didn’t talk about weekend plans. Instead she tells me her story. A story no one should have. A son taken from her too soon. Despite all the prayers lifted up, despite all the attempts to save him, her baby gone from this earth and all she’s left with is an ache.girl-865304_1920

So everyone celebrates life this week while she breaks.

My stomach tightens, not from the chain-restaurant omelette, but from the knot of longing. I wanted to say I understand. But how can I? Who can understand such pain? I wanted to have some great words of comfort, but none came.

What do you say to a mother who lowered her son in a grave long before his time? What do you say when it seems the whole world is erupting with spring life and hers is cloaked in winter’s chill?

Nothing.

So I listen. And I pray. And I realize that her story is sadly not rare enough. I realize that all around me lie the ruins of brokenness. I realize that the journey through this world is one split by selfishness and greed and hatred and heartache. And too often, hopelessness.

And then I remember the story.

The one where Hope stepped onto the landscape of the world, took on its brokenness and stretched it out on a cross. The one where the sky split open and grace descended.cross-828894_1920

I don’t believe most stories. I think incredible stories are mostly just that—in-credible. And this one is most incredible of all. I mean who can absorb the notion that God would come to earth and pour Himself into flesh?

Not just flesh, but infant flesh. And that He grew into a divine man with the power to heal and to forgive? And then in that power He looked behind and ahead to all mankind—to me and to you—and saw each moment?

Each broken moment. Each unholy moment. Each gunshot fired. Each drug injected. Each harsh word or cold slap. Each tear shed. That He had the power to see my pain and my disease and my injustice and…my sin, and declare it wiped away?

Who could believe such a story?

But I believe this one.

Not because someone told it to me, although I’m glad they did. Not because of a Sunday school flannel board, although it was fun. And not even because I read it in an ancient document, although I now treasure that holy book.lamp-872946_1920I believe it because His story collided with my story and it became our story.

I believe it because there was a time when I couldn’t find my way through the senselessness of my broken road and all I had were whys. There was no making sense. There was only doubt and fear and a sense that I would never be okay again.

And then that story. A man who died on a cross, yet lived. A man who stretched out His arms and declared it finished, yet just beginning. He looked though the corridors of 2000 years and saw my tears and desperation and I saw Him. And it wasn’t just a story anymore. It was Hope and Resurrected Life.

It was God with me.

Emmanuel. God with us. Then and now. Reminding us that we are not alone.

And that this is not the forever world. But there is one waiting for us that needs no words to explain it or make it make sense. A world where a mother who walked this earth years past her prime stretches renewed arms out to her young son who never reached his in an embrace that knows no sorrow.mother-and-son-887058_1920

A world where there is no more death or grief or tears or pain. A world that makes sense of all that is and was.

A world that once only existed in my make-believe mind. But I’ve glimpsed it. I got a peak into that world during my deepest suffering. The curtain was pulled back and I knew. I knew the story was true. I knew that it was possible to live when everything else was dying.

My friend knows it too.

Our breakfast dishes had been cleared away and we sipped the last of our coffee through tears and through laughter. She knows the story. Heaven came down when her son was taken up.

She suffers. She longs. She questions. Yet she knows. She believes. This broken road ends in wholeness.church-750251_1920I hope you can believe that.

I hope you can take it all in despite how in-credible it sounds. The suffering, the heartache, the senselessness. It won’t always be so. It’s only part of this journey and it isn’t forever.

If something in you has died, if all hope is lost, I hope you will believe the story. I promise you, when you look through faith’s eyes, you see what can not be seen with your own. And you can find joy despite suffering, hope despite hopelessness, and life despite death.

I’ve created Hope For the Hard Places just for you, and I’d love for you to download it or share it in anyway you find helpful.

Please leave me a comment below and let me know if you believe the story. Or if you’re not sure. I’d love to have coffee with you sometime.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When It’s Difficult To Be Thankful

In less than two weeks, most of us will be sitting around a table full of food, surrounded by those we love, counting all the reasons we are thankful.

But maybe some of you are in a hard place this season. Maybe you’re finding it difficult to give thanks in the midst of a marriage that’s falling apart or a child that won’t stop breaking your heart. Maybe as you face overwhelming circumstances, you can’t find that place of gratitude. Take heart in the fact that this too is a season.

Today my mind goes back to a book I read years ago, and a story that changed my perspective (and my life) forever. In The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom, Corrie’s life teaches that nothing is in vain, and because God has a purpose and a plan for my life, I can trust Him to use even the worst of times, for my good.

I’m sharing an excerpt with you today hoping that no matter what hard place you might find yourself in, and what “fleas” you are dealing with, you are also able to find joy in the midst of it. It is possible, and it is so worth it.

From The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom:Hidinh_place_book

[Corrie and her sister Betsie have just moved into permanent quarters in Ravensbruck concentration camp.]

“The deck above us was too close to let us sit up. We lay back, struggling against the nausea that swept over us from the reeking straw…Suddenly I sat up, striking my head on the cross-slats above. Something had pinched my leg.

 “‘Fleas!’ I cried. ‘Betsie, the place is swarming with them!’

 “We scrambled across the intervening platforms, heads low to avoid another bump, dropped down to the aisle and hedged our way to a patch of light.

 “‘Here! And here another one!’ I wailed. ‘Betsie, how can we live in such a place!’

 “‘Show us. Show us how.’ It was said so matter of factly it took me a second to realize she was praying. More and more the distinction between prayer and the rest of life seemed to be vanishing for Betsie.

 “‘Corrie!’ she said excitedly. ‘He’s given us the answer! Before we asked, as He always does! In the Bible this morning. Where was it? Read that part again!’

 “I glanced down the long dim aisle to make sure no guard was in sight, then drew the Bible from its pouch. ‘It was in First Thessalonians,’ I said. We were on our third complete reading of the New Testament since leaving Scheveningen.

 “In the feeble light I turned the pages. ‘Here it is: “Comfort the frightened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all…'” It seemed written expressly to Ravensbruck.

 “‘Go on,’ said Betsie. ‘That wasn’t all.’

 “‘Oh yes:’…”Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus.'” 

 “‘That’s it, Corrie! That’s His answer. “Give thanks in all circumstances!” That’s what we can do. We can start right now to thank God for every single thing about this new barracks!’ I stared at her; then around me at the dark, foul-aired room.

 “‘Such as?’ I said.

 “‘Such as being assigned here together.’

 “I bit my lip. ‘Oh yes, Lord Jesus!’

 “‘Such as what you’re holding in your hands.’ I looked down at the Bible.

 “‘Yes! Thank You, dear Lord, that there was no inspection when we entered here! Thank You for all these women, here in this room, who will meet You in these pages.’

 “‘Yes,’ said Betsie, ‘Thank You for the very crowding here. Since we’re packed so close, that many more will hear!’ She looked at me expectantly. ‘Corrie!’ she prodded.

 “‘Oh, all right. Thank You for the jammed, crammed, stuffed, packed suffocating crowds.’

 “‘Thank You,’ Betsie went on serenely, ‘for the fleas and for–‘

 “The fleas! This was too much. ‘Betsie, there’s no way even God can make me grateful for a flea.’

“‘Give thanks in all circumstances,’ she quoted. It doesn’t say, ‘in pleasant circumstances.’ Fleas are part of this place where God has put us.

 “And so we stood between tiers of bunks and gave thanks for fleas. But this time I was sure Betsie was wrong.”thumb_IMG_4038_1024

[Some time later, Corrie discovered Betsie was indeed right.]

 “‘You’re looking extraordinarily pleased with yourself,’ I told her.

 “‘You know, we’ve never understood why we had so much freedom in the big room,’ she said. ‘Well–I’ve found out.’

 “That afternoon, she said, there’d been confusion in her knitting group about sock sizes and they’d asked the supervisor to come and settle it.

 “But she wouldn’t. She wouldn’t step through the door and neither would the guards. And you know why?”

 “Betsie could not keep the triumph from her voice: ‘Because of the fleas! That’s what she said, “That place is crawling with fleas!'”

 “My mind rushed back to our first hour in this place. I remembered Betsie’s bowed head, remembered her thanks to God for creatures I could see no use for.

I don’t know what “fleas” you are facing as you head into this season of thanks, but I do hope you know that your situation, however impossible it may seem, is not hopeless.

I want to challenge you today to believe that you will not only get through it, but you can even learn to be grateful for it as you ask God to work in it. Thanksgiving is a powerful force, and it has a way of working miracles, especially in our own hearts.

Do you believe it?

Surrendering Happily-Ever-After

Family Photo copyAt a young age, my head was full of anticipation for the happily-ever-after-life I would one day lead. I dreamed about who I would marry, where we would live, how many children we would have, how many others we would adopt. I dreamed about the books I’d write and the people I would help, and the list goes on and on.

Today, I’m no different although my dreams have changed over the years. Some I’ve gladly given up, like being a pilot since I’m afraid of heights. Others I still cling to and believe for, like finally putting to pen the multiple books in my heart.

But what of the dreams I long for and see time making less and less achievable? What of the shattered dreams that have left me disillusioned and confused? What of the uprooting and rearranging of dreams I’m seeing right now? Nowhere in my little-girl hopes did hurt and loss come into play. Nowhere did I account for personal failure or the failure of others. Nowhere was there room in my young heart for dreams that didn’t come true.

What about your dreams, dear one? Are you in a season of surrendering your own version of happily-ever-after? Perhaps your prince charming isn’t so much after all. Perhaps your home isn’t being filled with the laughter of children you always imagined or you have a prodigal who you long to come home. Maybe sickness or financial crisis has left you unable to do little more than survive, let alone chase a dream.

Please know how I long to whisper words of hope into your soul.

I don’t know what you’re dreaming today, but I know that you can entrust it to the One who knows every secret longing. He has a way of drawing the line between the dreams others have instilled in you and those He intended all along.

Don’t miss this beautiful, broken journey dearest sister. It’s not about the dream. It never was. It’s about faith in the One who knows what will truly satisfy. It’s not about resigning ourselves to loss. It’s about releasing the right to be bitter for what we thought our life should or could look like and giving God permission to take over. When we do that, He may breathe fresh life into dead dreams or teach us how to relinquish them so that new ones can be birthed.

When hopelessness takes over, remember this, “God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams!” (Eph. 3:20 The MSG)

What are you dreaming of today? Or have dreamed your whole life? Will you be able to trust Jesus with it? Will you let Him decide what will be granted, what will be reshaped, and what will die?

Kim’s Jeans

Candy Abbott, Executive Director of Mothers With a Mission

Candy Abbott, Executive Director of Mothers With a Mission

Although my daughter is now the mother of two teenagers, I vividly remember a day when she was twelve that helped me learn to recognize God’s voice. It was a simple matter, really. She needed new jeans for her sixth grade class trip to the Smithsonian Institute the next day. In a sudden growth spurt, she had shot up two inches and could hardly bend over in her old ones. For a month, I’d been promising to get her a new pair, and I was down to the wire.

At that time in my life, I had another mission, too: to get better acquainted with the Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. Every morning, I climbed the stairs to our attic for some alone time with the Lord. If you’ve seen the movie, War Room, you’ll have an idea of how serious I was about this. I called it my “prayer closet” where I used The Helper, a book by Catherine Marshall, as my devotional guide.

The page open before me that morning was “He Saves Me Time,” so I prayed that I’d be able to find Kim some jeans that fit and still get to bed on time (not only for her benefit but also for mine since I was one of the chaperones). Before leaving my attic prayer closet, my eyes rested on these words from pages 75–77:

Lord Jesus, so often I ignore or ride roughshod over these strong inner feelings supplied by the Spirit. . . . What is willfulness in me, Lord, change . . .  Nothing could be more foolish than thinking I know better than You do. Help me this day, no matter how busy I get, to listen and to obey.

I worked as a secretary at Delaware Technical & Community College, and things were fairly slow at the office, so my thoughts drifted back to the day’s lesson. Would the Lord save me time if I could actually recognize and heed the voice of His Spirit? Around 11:00, I began to toy with the idea of using some overtime hours to make a quick run to the Salisbury mall to look for Kim’s jeans. My boss was in a meeting, so I arranged for someone to cover my desk. I’m sure he won’t mind, I rationalized, and it sure will save me time. Off I went.

The 45-minute ride was, in a word, harrowing. I hardly ever speed, but I did that day. My thoughts kept time with the speedometer as I raced along. If it was difficult for me to recognize the Lord’s voice in the quiet of my home, how could I ever hope to hear Him with cars and trees whizzing by my window?

My heart tugged and told me not to go, but I tried to ignore it. Wonder if that nagging feeling is God’s inner nudge? No, I countered, it’s probably just my guilty conscience because I didn’t get the official okay. Besides, I asked God to save me time, and this looks like a golden opportunity time-saver.

“Listen. Don’t go,” the tug repeated. My heart thumped, but I sped on.

Rounding the bend, an inner voice cautioned, “Turn back; it’s not too late.”

“Is that You, Lord?” I couldn’t be sure. “If it is, please bear with me.” Was I guilty of ‘riding roughshod’ over the strong inner feelings supplied by the Spirit? Maybe I shouldn’t buy Kim’s jeans without having her along to try them on. As I reconsidered my excursion, the internal struggle eased a bit. My mind is made up! I insisted. Again, something grabbed at my gut as I pressed on the accelerator.

“Turn back, turn back, turn back,” the voice seemed to echo.

“Lord,” I prayed, “if this is You and You’re trying to keep me from having an accident or something, please make it clear.”

“You’re speeding.”

“I know. I’ll slow down.”

“Go back. Don’t waste your time.”

“Lord, I’m sorry if I’m being bull-headed, but it’s too late to turn back now; I’m over halfway there. Besides, this will be a good test. If I don’t find any jeans in Kim’s size, then I’ll know it was Your voice after all. On the other hand, if I’m successful, then I’ll chalk this up to a vivid imagination. Either way, I’ll learn something. Thank You, Lord, for seeing me safely through this experiment.”

I rushed into the store and before my eyes stood a rack of 12-Slims, just what I was looking for. I scooped a pair of designer jeans off the rack and onto the sales counter where the cashier was quick to accept my credit card. I signed the form in haste, not paying any attention to the total.

An ear-splitting alarm sounded the moment my foot passed through the door on the way out. I jumped but, knowing I had paid, kept on walking, although I could hear a distant voice calling, “Ma’am, oh, ma’am.” When I turned around to see who was in trouble, the sales lady was racing toward me!

“What have I done?” My face flushed as she reached for the bag I was holding. She had forgotten to remove the security device from my purchase, and, although I was innocent of any wrongdoing, I had this eerie feeling that I’d been caught.

On the return trip, I concluded it must not have been the Lord’s voice to turn around, after all. My mind must have been playing tricks on me. The jeans were easy enough to find, and there were no traffic complications. Back at the office, everything was fine. I was relieved but a bit puzzled about that inner tug. I really had hoped that it was the Lord.

But surprise, the jeans didn’t fit! They were even tighter than Kim’s old ones. My heart skipped wildly.

“So it was You, after all! That is what You sound like.”

About that time, as if the ill-fitting jeans weren’t proof enough, I noted the sales slip and the outrageous price I’d paid. “Thank You, Lord, for convincing me. Next time, help me not to doubt Your voice and to be more obedient.”

Kim and I went shopping together that night, as originally planned. But this time, there was a difference. I was tuned in to the Lord’s voice, and I wasn’t racing around in a panic.

“You know where today’s sales are, Lord. Where should we go?”

“Dover.”

“Okay, here we are; which shopping center?”

“This one.”

“Which store?”

“This one.”

We drove into the parking lot and walked leisurely into the nearest store where Kim and I discovered a half-price sale and three pair of jeans that didn’t pinch, pull, sag, bag, or need to be hemmed. We were home and tucked into bed that night by 9:15.

Eventually, I returned the unwanted jeans to Salisbury. Some might say, “What a waste,” but I say, “What a workshop!” So many glorious lessons came out of that experience. It was almost as though God had enrolled me in a special “mobile classroom.” The return trip provided valuable time for reflection. Never again will I think that God is too busy with important things to be bothered with my trivial concerns. Not only did I learn that the Holy Spirit cares enough to save me time, but I know He’s big enough to pay attention to the tiniest detail and tolerant enough to deal with my clumsy experiments.

We don’t need good hearing to detect the Lord’s voice, just a sensitive, willing heart. I actually think the Holy Spirit delights in providing sensitivity training. Although the voice may be still and small, it is near. In fact, Luke 17:21 says, “The kingdom of God is within you”—in our very own hearts, souls, and minds.

But thoughts can be tricky. Not all inner nudges, promptings, impulses, or impressions come from God. The handcuffed, suicidal maniac I saw on the news who insisted, “God told me to do it!” as he was being thrust into the back seat of a squad car was responding to the voice of the god of destruction, not the God of heaven.

How can we be sure it’s God’s voice we’re hearing? Examine what the voice tells you in light of God’s attributes. I compiled the following checklist as a tool to test the validity of any inner leading I may have. Let the truth of these points sink deep into your heart, soul, and mind.

Checklist for Hearing God

  1. God will never lead me astray.
    He won’t ask me to do anything immoral, unethical, corrupt, vicious, dishonest, unkind, or unbecoming. If my morals or integrity are jeopardized in any way, the voice cannot be His. He is a God of righteousness.
  2. God will never violate His Word.
    He will never ask me to do anything that is contrary to the Scriptures. Even if I can find a passage that seems appropriate, I must be careful not to twist it to suit my own needs but rather consider the context in which it was written. He is a God of honor.
  3. God will never cause confusion.
    He offers me peace, joy, and clarity of mind. If I am experiencing anxiety or confusion, it is probably because of my own pandemonium, worldly pressure, or some unholy spirit—which I promptly and deliberately reject. He is a God of order.
  4. God will never bring condemnation.
    He is compassionate, righteous, and just. While He insists on confronting me with my own sin and shortcomings, He will not whip me with guilt. His desire is not to cripple but to lead me in the ways of repentance and restoration. His trademark is not incrimination but forgiveness. He is a God of mercy.
  5. God will never entertain discouragement.
    He builds me up and calls forth courage. He does not throw in the towel, promote defeat, or look for easy escape routes. He offers power and victory, no matter how bad a mess I get myself into. He is a God of hope.
  6. God will never contradict Himself.
    His message will never be in conflict with His nature that is comprised of unconditional love coupled with unwavering justice. God is love, and His Word is truth. Christ’s character and His law will always be reflected in the words His Spirit says. He is a God of conviction.
  7. God will never hurt me.
    He is the Great Physician—the healer and the restorer. He is the Good Shepherd—the seeker of lost sheep, the protector, and the guide. He is the Solid Rock—a ready fortress and refuge. He is a God of grace.

Morning by morning, O Lord, You hear my voice;
in the morning I lay my requests before You
and wait in expectation
(Psalm 5:3).

The Ultimate Parenting Resource

The day was long and the night promised to be longer as I lay sobbing quietly next to my husband. I dared not wake him, afraid I’d have to confess the failed day with our son—a day of constant scolding and crying and putting division between his young heart and my own.

Eventually I rose, as I always did in such defeated moments, to scan the shelves for the perfect parenting book that would give me my next plan. As I stood bleary-eyed and hopeless, I uttered, more to myself than anyone else, “I need help.”

FullSizeRender-2Through the shadows of both the night and my own condemning heart, light penetrated with the words, “Ask Me.” I was not familiar then with “the still small voice” of God as I was rarely quiet long enough to hear it, but in that moment, I knew He had heard my pathetic plea and answered.

Although I’d cried without expectation, although I’d spent those early mothering years determined to do it my way, and although I rarely gave God the crumbs of my day let alone the first, He was there.

Psalm 145:18 promises, “The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.” The truth was, I was weary and out of resources and in that great place of weakness, I was finally able to hear the treasures He longed to share, the insights on my child that only He could reveal as the ultimate parenting resource.

As I sat in silence before Him, His answer to my heart was simple. My son didn’t need a new game plan. He didn’t need more discipline or less structure. He simply needed eye-to-eye, hand-in-hand attention periodically throughout the day. That revelation changed our relationship instantly and forever. I learned that a hug was often all it took to diffuse a meltdown, and that a snuggle together with a book could transform a negative spirit for the rest of the day. God knew and now I knew simply by asking.

My son has since gone off to college, but I have three other children behind him that I still need personal guidance for. Sadly, I am often too self-reliant and have to be brought back to that night.

Through it, I am reminded that although there are many authors who know a great deal about children in general, only the author of my children knows them specifically. There are great books, many that have provided me with timely and wise advice, but my Father in heaven was and is the authority on my children, and He will never refuse to give me wisdom and direction when I ask for it.

I don’t know whether you believe in such a personal God, but I challenge you to test His word in James 1:5 which says “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” (NIV) He cares for you and your children, and you can trust every word He says.

This task of parenting is often a challenging and frightening one. I hope you know I’m on your side and that I have prayed for you today to find the answers you need that will bring peace and joy to your home. God Bless You!