Saturday, November 26, 2016

When Holidays Aren't So Happy

“I will be glad and rejoice in your love, for you saw my affliction and knew the anguish of my soul” (Psalm 31:7).

 “Happy Holidays” is very familiar expression at this time of the year.  But pain and illness are no respecters of the calendar and can cause us to feel anything but happy.

We may feel depressed because we can’t be with loved ones, attend events, or decorate, cook, and shop the way we would like.  Or we may be concerned about the traveling, socializing, or hosting that we are scheduled to do.  Either way, we may wish we could skip the holiday season entirely.

Here are a few suggestions from the Grief Share book “Surviving the Holidays”, which, although written for those who have lost loved ones, can also be helpful for those facing health challenges.

Have realistic expectations.  The world promotes the necessity of a perfectly decorated home, the best food, the most beautiful presents, and a full social calendar to be happy.  Even many healthy people’s holidays don’t meet these expectations.

Simplify. Ask others to bring food or order from stores.  Decorate less or rotate decorations. Shop on-line as much as possible.  Choose the social and religious events that will be most meaningful to you and let the others go.

Consider new traditions.  Instead of being discouraged over what we can’t do, we can develop new traditions that are enjoyable now.

Reach out to others.  Taking the emphasis off ourselves helps us put our struggles in perspective and allows us to bless others in need.

Focus on the true meaning of the season.  In Surviving the Holidays, Sue Lutz writes:

“He (Christ) came to defeat the sin and sorrow that overwhelms us at the holidays.  When you focus on this, it helps you get past the everyday trappings of the Christmas season that can tear you down.  When you look at the eternal perspective of what Jesus came to do, it sweeps you up into the lasting things that God is bringing to your life through His coming.”

Pain and illness may keep us from having the happy holidays the world promotes, but they don’t have to keep us from having a meaningful one. And in those moments when we are feeling our losses the most, we can look to our Savior who understands, and whose coming brings joy in the midst of sorrow.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, it is easy for me to focus on the wrong things at this time of year and only see the things I can’t do or don’t have.  Regardless of what traditional aspects of the holiday season I can or can’t enjoy, may I find soul-satisfying happiness in celebrating Your coming to earth for me and in the hope of my incomparably happy eternal future with You.  Amen.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Freedom to Trust God's Decisions for Our Lives

“If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36).

For many years, we lived within a few hours of various military bases.  I have often thought of the problems I would have experienced in that career because of my difficulty in following orders and directions without understanding their reasons. This attitude has created numerous problems in both my personal and spiritual life.

Over the years it has been hard to accept the ongoing pain and physical problems that God has allowed in my life. I have felt that if I were given an explanation of why this was happening and understood it, I could accept it much more easily.  Thankfully my faith and trust in God and His decisions is increasing, but many times I still struggle.

As we approach the Fourth of July, I am reminded of why many wars have been fought – for freedom.  In order to reach that goal soldiers had to follow orders and be obedient.  If they were like me they might have said. “Why can’t I go in that direction? Why can’t I be with that division?  Can you tell me the ultimate goal of the mission?” Chaos would have reigned, battles would not have been won, and freedom would have been lost.

My obedience to God brings me freedom and victory.  By yielding to Him and His loving and purposeful plan for my life, I experience freedom from fear, anxiety, hopelessness, discouragement, the need for control, and countless other negative emotions. But I must trust and obey, having the faith to believe that His way is best, regardless of how little I understand it or agree with it at the time.   My “commanding officer” has been through basic training here on earth.  There is no battle He has not fought personally, so He is well-deserving of my unwavering obedience.  Earthly freedom and independence may come and go, but my freedom from sin and its harmful thoughts and behaviors is an eternal independence that I can claim every day.  That’s cause for celebration!

Prayer:  Lord  Jesus, as I thank You for my earthly freedom, I also thank You for the spiritual freedom You give as I walk in trust and obedience to You. 




Wednesday, June 1, 2016

God's Traveling Mercies While on the Road of Pain

“The Lord replied, ‘My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest’ ”
(Exodus 33:14).

Vacation time is here now. Many people pray for God’s traveling mercies on their trips, which may include a safe arrival to and from destinations and freedom from sickness and problems while away.

I recently read this quote from Andrew Bonar:  “If the Father has the kingdom ready for us, He will take care of us along the way”. I immediately thought of traveling mercies.

As Christians, we know that we are traveling through this life to reach our ultimate destination of heaven and eternal life with Christ. But this trip is long and difficult, particularly if we live with poor health. We need God’s traveling mercies.

God has shown His traveling mercies to me countless times. He protected me during a serious accident as child which could have resulted in a life-long disability. He was with me on the foggy roads of painful parenting and the treacherous roads of cancer and mental breakdown. And He has been with me during the 30+ year trip of back pain, showing me the right roads to take (when I listen!) and giving me perseverance and endurance on the ride.

I agree with Bonar’s quote. God has an eternal pain-free home awaiting me. He knows the road to get there is long and difficult – Scripture confirms that (I Peter 4:12). But I have His mercy and protection while traveling. Sometimes I make wrong turns and get lost. There may be some “collisions”. But God is there through it all. He has been and will continue to take care of me until this trip is over. 

There’s no doubt that this road trip is an adventure. So I will enjoy the days of good travel, trust Him on the frustrating and dangerous ones, pray for His rest in the process, and keep making my way home. 

Prayer: Heavenly Father, this life of pain isn’t the road trip I wanted to take, but I have seen some amazing signs of Your Presence along the way. Even my “accidents” are ordained by You. As I make my way toward my final destination, I know that I am traveling under Your divine guidance and protection at all times. Thank you, Lord. Amen.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Knowing Christ in Suffering and Resurrection

“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead”
(Philippians 3:10,11).

Throughout my life  I have struggled with this verse.  I want very much to share in Christ’s resurrection.  Sharing in His sufferings, however, is less appealing.

Until my chronic health conditions began, I truthfully wanted no part of Christ’s sufferings – at least no major suffering.  I thought I could endure the small inconveniences of life and even the more difficult situations related to child-rearing and financial crises.  But when suffering involved physical pain, I preferred to bypass that altogether.

Now that I live with frequent pain or sickness, this passage has taken on an entirely new meaning.  Although my pain cannot compare to what Christ endured on the cross, it enables me to identify in a small way with what He experienced.   In my times of greatest pain, Christ has been the nearest.  I have felt His peace and presence during my most agonizing moments, assuring me I would survive and did not need to panic.  Other times I have felt tremendous power flowing from the prayers of those around me, carrying me through times of trial.

The wonderful aspect of this verse is that resurrection does come.  After the agony of Gethsemane and Calvary, Christ rose in glory and is resplendent in heaven even now.  Our pains and sufferings will one day explode into pain-free resurrection.  We will be perfect and healthy. 

Until then, my trials are a constant reminder of the One who loves me most.  I want to be thankful that I have someone who has gone before me on this journey of suffering.  He understands my pain as no one else can.  He is with me through it now and will one day raise me to my resurrection wholeness.  Hallelujah!

Prayer:  Lord Jesus, let me feel the joy of Your glorious resurrection in this earthly life.  Draw me ever deeper into knowing You, in sickness and in health.  Amen.




Sunday, March 20, 2016

Rejoice and Be Glad in THIS Day

“This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it”
(Psalm 118:24).

There is a simple praise song based on this verse which I sang with my children when they were little.   Now that I deal with ongoing pain, at times I have difficulty singing those words truthfully from my heart. 
I once learned something very interesting about this verse from Beth Moore’s Bible study on the Psalms of Ascent.  Psalms 113-118 are part of the Hallel, which were Psalms sung by the Jewish people during Passover and other festivals, even before the time of Christ.  Jesus was in Jerusalem for the Passover just before His death.  He would have sung these words at some point during the seven day celebration, possibly even on the night of the last supper (Mark: 14:26).

Jesus knew that within a few days or maybe hours of singing these words, He would go through the agony of Gethsemane, betrayal, trial, excruciating pain, and crucifixion.  Yet He still sang with His disciples.  Although He was sinless we know from Scripture that He experienced human emotions.  How hard it must have been for Him to join in song knowing what lay ahead. 

Although my pain and trials cannot begin to compare to what Christ suffered, He understands how hard it is for me to rejoice in a day that may very well be filled with great difficulties.  He is able to sympathize with me in my every weakness (Hebrews 4:15).  Keeping these thoughts in mind, I hope I can believe and speak these words of rejoicing regardless of how I am feeling. 

Even though that first Good Friday brought great agony for Christ, it truly was a day to rejoice.  Death and sin were defeated forever.  Whatever suffering I may be experiencing will also eventually bring a reason to rejoice.  Therefore, I will rejoice and be glad – Resurrection Day is coming.

Prayer:  Lord Jesus, I thank you for the example You give of praying and praising in times of difficulty or suffering.  Give me the perseverance and desire to rejoice and be glad every day, even as I wait for my own resurrection into new life.  Amen.


Wednesday, February 10, 2016

A Valentine from God

“I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness”
(Jeremiah 31:3).

I believe God loves me. Yet at times I doubt His love, especially during periods of ongoing pain or problems.

But Scripture is full of ways God shows His love for me.

When I feel useless: “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10).

When I feel like no one cares: “The Lord your God is with you.  He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17).

When I feel hopeless: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).

When I feel I can’t handle my pain anymore:  “When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze” (Isaiah 43:2).

When I’m afraid of future suffering: “Be strong and courageous.  Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).

Jennifer Rothschild has compiled a list of 66 ways God loves us – one for each book of the Bible. 

Here is a sampling of them. 

“In Genesis, He fashions you with His hands.
In Psalms, He draws you close & listens for your voice.
In Ezekiel & Daniel, the Lord joins you in the fire.
In the gospels, God puts on human flesh to save you.
In Acts, He gives you His Spirit.
In Peter, He gives you victory over suffering.
In Revelation, He bestows the ultimate honor upon you, as He receives you as His beloved & treasured bride.”

You can download the complete list here:

Yes, Jesus loves me, now and always.  The Bible - God’s Valentine - tells me so.

Prayer:  O Lord, how thankful I am that no matter how painful or lonely or difficult my life is, I have the promises in Scripture of Your love and care for me.  Let me never doubt this love, and let me show my love to You in trust, obedience, and worship.  Amen.
This is a great song by Chris Tomlin - Jesus Loves Me



Monday, February 1, 2016

God Is Our Trust Rod of Strength and Support

“The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation”
(Psalm 118:14).

I have been blessed to be part of contemporary worship teams for quite a few years now.  I play the piano, but I recently learned some information about the guitar that I found quite interesting.

Many guitars have something called a truss rod in the neck.  This rod is required for guitars with high tension strings.  Without this rod, the natural tendency of the wooden neck is to bend beyond repair due to the tension from the strings.

Tension is not the only thing that can bend the neck. Changes in environment and temperature can also cause it to warp, twist, or even break.  The truss rod protects the guitar from becoming permanently damaged due to any of these causes.

I thought about how well this concept pertains to our lives.  Pain and illness create a lot of tension.  Sometimes we feel the pressure is too great for us to endure.  We may have circumstantial or environmental stressors as well, but the truss rod of God’s strength keeps us from bending and breaking.  We may seem to be damaged now, but we know it’s not permanent.  Eternal perfection is coming.
The original meaning of the word truss was something that ties or binds, and today it describes a type of supporting framework.  God is the supporting framework who holds us together. And as we bind ourselves to Him, we can keep praising and trusting Him even through the most tense and stressful times.  When we feel ourselves bending, He straightens us. We will not break. 
The word “truss” sounds very much like the word “trust”, doesn’t it?  God is our “trust” rod at all times, enabling us to handle all the tensions and problems we face.  He truly is our strength, our song, and our salvation.

Prayer: O Lord, many times I begin to bend under the tensions of my pain and problems.  Sometimes I feel as though I am going to break from the strain of life’s stresses and my own weaknesses.  But I thank You that no matter how great the tension, the trust rod of Your faithfulness and strength support me.  Amen.