Fighting Discouragement

painI don’t know about you, but some days – many days – there seems to be an invisible weight tied to my heart.  I start feeling caught in the undertow of circumstances.  Problems feel overwhelming, the issues in our government seem hopeless, the worldwide condition of humanity looms like a dark cloud with horrific things like starvation, human trafficking, terrorism, poverty and disease.

Meanwhile, I’ve got paper piling up, laundry collecting by the hour, bills to pay, a sick kid, dreams on hiatus, a discouraged husband, and a future to think about.

How do we get out of bed on days when discouragement seems to be winning the battle?
The thing that gets me out of bed is Eternal Hope.  Knowing that this world isn’t just spinning in utter chaos without hope.  The problems are too big for me, yes.  But to the Creator of the World, nothing is impossible.  NOTHING.  If I take my cues from Him, there is always, always a way through.

So I remember to be grateful.  For Him.  For daily bread.  For His guiding Word. For family.  For friends, mentors and cheerleaders.  For breath in my lungs and this moment in time… this moment when I can choose to not give up on filling my purpose in this world. Admittedly, my purpose feels small at times.  But remember, we see only a keyhole version of eternity.  There is so much more going on – in realms we may never actually see or understand – than we could dare to dream.

One foot in front of the other, let’s keep doing the next right thing.  Keep listening for the Voice of Truth that reminds us we are not alone.  Let’s let discouragement lose today.  Let hope win one more time.

OH. And this…

Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable. 
He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength.
Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; 
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.
(Isaiah 40:28-31)

What This Silent Wooden Wiseman is Saying…

Wise-Men-are-Not-Always-Silent

Early in our marriage, Scott and I received a small, hand-carved nativity set made of olive wood from friends who brought it back from their travels.  It has moved across the country with us, survived little hands arranging the pieces over and over again, year after year. By some miracle all of the pieces are still together more than 20 years later.

_MG_9736A few months ago, I moved some furniture while cleaning and found a stray Wiseman that didn’t make it back into the Christmas boxes when we packed them up for storage. At first I tucked the little guy into a jar where I had corralled several other stray items before delivering them to their proper locations around the house.  He looked so out of place among the lost rubber bands and random trinkets. But there was no way I was crawling up into the attic to put him away.

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Yesterday I found him on top of the refrigerator. I picked him up to move him and, as I felt him in my hands, I couldn’t ignore all that this little wooden figure represents.

Just a silent piece of wood, carved into the rough form of a tiny Wiseman; yet he is part of a far bigger Story. One that altered the course of history. This piece of wood is part of that Story because, centuries ago, someone showed up far from home because he believed in something – Someone – even bigger than all his wisdom, or experience, or knowledge. That Story, told from generation to generation, is our greatest hope. Such hope, in fact, that even this lost little wooden man can help tell it.

In other words, this wooden man and I have a lot in common.

All my so-called wisdom, and even my most well-honed abilities, pale in comparison to what happens if I’ll just simply BE part of the Story. Only then can more-able-Hands put me exactly where I’m needed, so hope can shine into unlikely places.

I’m going to keep this silent little Wiseman out where I can see him; where I can remember that, whether my life, or talents, are on display for others to see or I’m all alone just being who I am, the Story is good and I am part of it. All day, everyday.

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Be Still and Know.

Yesterday, my son and his friends had rehearsed most of the afternoon preparing to lead worship for our church today.  The adult worship leaders were all out of town this weekend, so Jackson, Drew, Laekin, Shane and Scott had been called up from their usual place leading worship for student ministries to play for the main services. And they were ready.

Several of the band members and their friends decided to have a movie night at our house, so I was making popcorn for them when I got a text message saying Shane and his girlfriend, Cassidy, had been in a very serious car accident. At that moment, a flood of calls and text messages made very clear the fact that this was more than a fender bender. Cassidy had been trapped in the car and, after a “jaws of life” helped paramedics get to her, she was life-lined to one hospital while Shane was taken to another hospital by ambulance.   Two of my kids’ dearest friends were in danger.

Groups of friends, parents and church members immediately began to flood each of the hospitals to offer support, prayer, drive-thru burgers, someone even thought to bring a phone charger, which was utilized almost constantly during the hours that followed. Calls and texts were exchanged between each hospital with updates.

Over the course of the evening we learned that Shane suffered a concussion, a shoulder injury, and a bruise on his brain, along scrapes on his face from the airbag.  He had no broken bones and was alert and able to have visitors. But there was no way he would be playing drums in the morning.

Cassidy did not fair quite as well, but we were relieved to learn that her injuries were not life-threatening. She had broken ribs, cracks in her pelvis, a severe concussion and a collapsed lung.  Friends went back in twos to quietly check in with her, but she was hurting and groggy.  Late in the evening, Shane’s dad revealed a photo he had received of the car and suddenly we fully realized the miracle we were witnessing – that they were alive.

By the time visiting hours were over, Jackson had gone from, “There is no way we can sing tomorrow,” to  “It’s going to be really hard but I think we need to do it.”  Fortunately, our student ministry is blessed with more than one great drummer, so Josh was called in and the band would meet at 7:15 this morning to get ready for the service.

None of us slept much.  But at 7:15 this morning, I began to see a group of exhausted, concerned teenagers learn first-hand what it means to see Christ’s strength made perfect in their weakness.  While two of their dearest friends in this world lied in beds at two separate hospitals, they led people more than twice their age into the very Presence of Deity.  Their raw emotions and weary minds miraculously did not get in the way of what they were there to do, which was worship the God who had graciously spared the lives of people they love.  Their gratitude was contagious. And the place was bathed in His Spirit.

After the services were over, they formed a huge circle (pictured above) to thank God and to pray for continued healing for Shane and Cassidy.  When teenagers poured into our house for lunch, last night’s uneaten popcorn was still sitting on the counter as a quiet reminder of just how quickly things can change from fun and laughter to somber reflection on life’s fragility.

Shane was released from the hospital this morning and immediately went to see Cassidy.  Their friends all piled into cars after lunch, along with our amazing new youth pastor and his wife, to join them.  As they left I gave a gentle reminder to drive carefully and watch for other drivers.  No one argued.

I must tell you that the tragedy of this weekend – of seeing these precious kids and their families hurting – has somehow morphed into one of the most beautiful sides of the church I have ever seen. I have seen the church from the inside out throughout my life. I have seen its ugliest sides.  I have been dangerously close to cynicism at times.  But today, I saw Jesus.  His hands and feet – even adolescent hands and feet – serving with strength, grace and humility.  I needed to see that.  And I needed to be reminded that we can trust him with the full weight of our cares, our questions, our fears and even our weakness.

He.  Is.  Here.   He was in that car with those sweet kids.  He was in their rooms late into the night when all was quiet and the questions inevitably rolled around in their heads.  He was in their friends’ music this morning.  He will continue to be in the moments yet to come.

The following is a portion of the lyric from the last song the kids sang this morning, entitled, “Still.”  It’s a perfect reminder for us today, and every day.

Find rest my soul In Christ alone

Know his power in quietness and trust

When the oceans rise and thunders roar

I will soar with you above the storm

Father you are king over the flood

I will be still and know you are God

The Thing With Feathers

I have always been fascinated with the poetry of Emily Dickinson. I even did a biographical report on her as a kid.
(I know, I was probably a weird poetry-geek of a kid, but the fact remains… this was a rare poet.)
Her poem about hope still blows me away every time…

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

During this season when the world is “supposed” to be celebrating, it seems like a good time to hear from this poet who (I learned from that biographical report I wrote)  in no way lived a life of ease.  If “the thing with feathers” perched in HER soul, in spite of poverty, poor health, loneliness and a complicated love relationship, then it can certainly find a home in my heart and yours. Storms, it seems, only make that thing hunker down and settle in for the long haul.
If circumstances find you in “the chillest land” or “the strangest sea” right now, I pray that Hope’s undemanding Presence will sing sweetly to the very depths of you… and never stop at all.

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