When Circumstances Overwhelm Us

I have friends in Houston, Texas, and surrounding towns—you may also—who are experiencing the rains and winds of Hurricane Harvey’s lingering effects. For all that can be predicted, they know they have to wait and then live through what actually comes. And that’s hard. At the same time, all other challenging matters of life haven’t evaporated. For the moment, they may shrink in comparison, but they’re still there.

You know what I mean. A new trial develops, yet the other hard things remain, too. We press on, hanging in there, until sometimes we wear down, fall apart, cry, pray, vent, and try our best to keep praying—to keep holding on to the One who holds us and holds all creation.

“I have been pouring out my soul before the LORD . . . speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation.” (1 Samuel 1.15b-16)

All week I’ve been planted in this passage in 1 Samuel 1.1-20, where God unfolds how Hannah perseveres in faith and how he attends her heart through her circumstances. Hannah prays for years to conceive a child, plus her husband’s other wife regularly provokes her that she’s born multiple children. One big trial compounded by another—Can you relate?

Hannah is “deeply distressed and prayed to the LORD and wept bitterly.” (v.10)

Anxiety, worry, pain, and frustration accompany Hannah’s heart. Yet, the Companion whose company she steadfastly chooses is her LORD. She takes her experiences and feelings to God, not holding back. She unloads every aspect of her burden, letting tears wash her empty.

This is intimacy with God. Raw and honest, yet worshipful. God is Hannah’s heavenly Father and Lord.

“Then the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad.” (v.18b)

Her face was no longer sad. She went “her way,” back to the circumstances that currently define her life. Yet, she went changed—changed by her encounter with the living God. Changed by his love that filled all places in her heart when she emptied all that burdened her. She “went” with God, with His peace that passes all understanding.

Hannah’s no-longer-sad face reflects a heart that has overcome the overwhelm of circumstances in the power of God’s love. She trusts God—that He sees, listens, holds, and loves her through all circumstance.

Dear God,
Thank you for sharing a segment of Hannah’s life and relationship with us. Help us seek to know you more as our Father and Lord, who loves us immeasurably. Teach and prompt us to steadfastly walk with You through all circumstances. Amen.

In Hard Times, Surprised by Peace

dsc01397As I turned the calendar page to December, I packed for a quick trip to see my Mom in South Carolina. Christmas decorating, shopping, and baking would need to wait until I returned to Houston. My birthday would fall within our visit, so I was particularly grateful for the timing of this trip. My sweet momma has Alzheimer’s. Thank God, she still knows me; she still knows my voice when I call. But the beautiful way that she celebrated her family on our birthdays is now a treasured memory in our hearts. My best gift this year would be her company.

Hours before my flight, I learned that Mom was not well. Of all the dates I could have chosen to visit, He secured this one in my heart weeks earlier. From that moment forward, awe:  You, God, are so good.

dsc01407So what do we do when our plan turns upside down and then spirals downward?
Sometimes a Plan B quickly emerges and all is well. Sometimes we have a pity party or a temper tantrum. And sometimes, we aren’t sure what to do. . . . Emotions stir, yet they don’t lead. Thoughts amass, but order is evasive. Then, whether we have prayed or not, God is faithful. He moves. He moves, for he was present in this moment before we came into it. He carries us THROUGH the hard minutes and hours and circumstances such that often we don’t realize this until much later—in awe and wonder of his tender care and provision in the unexpected hard.

dsc01389As I spent time with Mom in the hospital and later settled her back into her residence, God gave me an Advent gift that I’ll treasure always. Leaning against pillows, Mom and I sat on her bed and I offered, “Mom, it’s Advent. Let’s read the gospel stories of Jesus’ birth.” As I read, I glanced at Mom. Awe covered her face and two soft, child-like gasps of wonder made my heart pause…..O God, this holy moment with You . . . with Mom. Thank You.

God with us. Immanuel.

dsc01406Not long after I returned to Houston, Mom’s condition worsened, so I flew back. Every day was heartbreaking. By GRACE, she seems to be recovering slowly. . . What a different December. . . But, isn’t every December different? Our life and the lives of those we love unfold, and these experiences bring joy, laughter, grief, tears, healing, heartache, hope, and deepening faith in the One who remains the same and loves us the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow—Jesus, Immanuel.

dsc01401“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name ‘Immanuel’ (which means, God with us).” (Matthew 1.23)  Mary held the Prince of Peace, though her life circumstances were anything but peaceful. And God held her.

I reflect on this December and the depth of God’s peace that I experienced surprises me—in a very good way. So many emotions wrestled in my heart and often wore me down. Yet, Jesus lives there victorious over every hard time I’ll endure.  Immanuel.

dsc01409For all of us and every hard time that comes—May God’s peace that passes all understanding REIGN in our hearts.

Thanksgiving

DSC00280I love Thanksgiving.  Mainly because it’s the one time a year that my whole family gathers at my parents’ home …  

Sometimes different members can’t come, but we all try.  But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I LOVE the food fest, too!   I always eat too much.  Always.  I live for my Mom’s stuffing – oh my.  It’s funny, as my brothers and their families arrive, we all greet each other and then we head straight to the kitchen were Mom has stored several containers of homemade sweets.  And we begin.  We eat and talk, talk and eat.  And we play hard, too.  I thank God for this time.

But every time hasn’t been that way for me.  As I inched my way into my late twenties – single, I dreaded facing the question, “So, are you dating anyone?”  I loved being with my family, but I longed to be married and have children like my brothers were beginning to.  It was hard.

Many people don’t look forward to the holidays, though they love their families…   A relationship is strained or difficult; we’re struggling personally and really don’t want to go put on the happy face for everyone, or perhaps we’re marking this occasion for the first time without a loved one who has passed away.  There are lots of possibilities.  Most of us have had more than one “family occasion” that we simply “got through”.

CIMG3279So what do you do with your pain, your struggle, your feelings?  God lovingly tell us what He want us to do:  “Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.” (Psalm 55.22)  “Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5.7)

To cast means to throw, to discard.  The Lord knows what is going on in us; He wants to walk with us through it.  More than that He wants to carry the burden; so He directs us to “cast” it upon Him.

Why doesn’t He just take it?  Because He desires relationship with us, a deepening intimacy… through conversation.  He alone sees our heart and knows our precise state.  He alone can tend our heart, comfort and heal us, and lead us through our current circumstance.  But, He has given us the freedom to choose to invite Him in – or not.

Are you carrying a burden?  Cast it on Him and ask for His help: “Lord, I give you — . Please help me and show me the way.”  It could be helpful for us to pray this every day for a while.  A beautiful thing that I’ve learned as I’ve cast many burdens on the Lord is that the more I pray this, I become more expectant.  More expectant that God is near, that He will act.