The Lord is my Shepherd. I will have everything I need. -Psalm 23:1
Last week, something odd happened. I awoke with this Bible verse turning over and over in my mind. This has never happened to me before, nor can I ever recall having God speak to me through my dreams. Maybe this is a first?
As I lay there dozing in and out, I remember rattling off these words again and again: The Lord is my shepherd. He is all that I need. For awhile now, I’ve felt like He has been telling me this and apparently, this particular morning, God was really trying to pound it into me.
What I find even more interesting is that I will often start drafts of posts, to later come back and write more. I had forgotten about this post until I came across it tonight trying to figure out what I wanted to blog about. In His most impeccable timing, I saw the title I had written and once again, knew it was His way of reminding me of this after a most trying weekend.
This past weekend was one of those-can-I-please-just-pull-the-covers-over-my-head-and-keep-dreaming-so-I-don’t-have-to-get-up kinda weekends. This, along with the last three years of our lives, made me question life itself. It can be difficult to not understand what God’s plans are and yet, keep running the race. Without going into every detail, we have had to move several times in the past three years due to toxic mold exposure and environmental sensitivities. We are in another temporary living situation and were supposed to move into a different cabin this weekend, however, after moving nearly all of our stuff, we were not able to stay there. The entire cabin had been freshly varnished recently and although it had been aired out, it smelled so strongly, our belongings even smelled like varnish. So, after moving everything, it all had to go back to the cabin we came from. It felt like such a waste of time, energy and hard work. I know that there are different seasons in each of our lives, and then the seasons change, but this season we have been in the past few years has been extremely challenging, to say the least. Yes, there have been many adventures that I am so very grateful for, but there has also been a lot of hard.
I can’t help but wonder, after losing nearly everything we owned to toxic mold almost three years ago, when we will have a more permanent home. It’s all just wordly “stuff”, I know, and we are not of this world. Maybe though, I’m still grieving our losses-our health, our home, our belongings, my social work career, and private school for our girls. That’s a lot to lose in one shot. And it doesn’t include the more recent loss of seeing family due to Covid and our big move to Alaska. It’s tough not to compare our life before toxic mold, to the hardships we have endured since, or to others lives, but I know He’s refining us. There are definitely lessons in all of this. We are learning to trust God more and choose faith over fear. And we are being taught to wait patiently.
Today, I’m weary, but I’m going to choose faith. I’m going to keep my eyes on Him and remind myself that my prize isn’t this side of heaven. He’s telling me that He’s all I need, and maybe until I really, truly comprehend that on a heart-level, He won’t give me any more.
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. -2 Corinthians 4:18
The Lord protects those of childlike faith; I was facing death, and he saved me. -Psalm 116:6
The memories I have as a child feeling safe are a bit foggy, but they are definitely there. I can see them if I sift through the clouds. Those are the ones that shine bright in my mind, when I let them peek through the fog. I don’t allow myself to go there often though, because that time has long passed. Having blocked out a lot after the age of thirteen, part of me doesn’t like looking back-back before that time, when my life felt absolutely perfect. Yet, when I consciously dig, I can see that young, curly-haired, barefoot girl running wild and free in our neatly landscaped yard, without a care in the world. I miss those times. I sure do. Those were the times when I felt safe and secure. Life was easy back then-simple, or so I thought.
It was an illusion though, growing up living the American dream. I found out all too suddenly that safety didn’t lie in your mom, dad, brother, or dog living together in a beautiful house in the country with neighbor kids to play with nearby. Safety didn’t lie in family camping trips, going to Disneyland together, or a new 5-speed bike for my birthday. It didn’t lie in having best friend sleepovers all the time or my dad building us an amazing fort in our backyard. Safety didn’t lie in playing weekly soccer games or going water skiing together on the river. No, see, these are wordly things and those of us who believe in Jesus are not of this world. Those things and people aren’t our safety net.
When I lost my family, I lost my sense of safety and security. It all came tumbling down like a tower built on the sand. Baptized Catholic and forced to attend church service each Sunday when I was younger, the focus back then, was the religious rituals. Despite the religion, my life was still built on worldly things. I didn’t really understand having a relationship with God at that point in my life, and although my parents tried, I don’t think they really did either. So, these worldly things that my life was built on, came crashing down hard. Like everything on earth that perishes, that life was temporary.
The family I once knew and felt secure in, eventually died. My family unit was ripped apart in an instant like a vicious wolf tearing apart its prey. Each day suddenly became confusing and scary and painful-oh so painful-too painful, in fact, for my thirteen year-old self to take. I tried to carry it, but my body gave out. This was the beginning of what my life would eventually become. The start of something new-not easy, but new-a 180 degree turn in my life. Not only did I learn to walk in fear, it was the start of a life searching for answers in all the wrong places-addictions, people, answers to my illnesses, and answers about God.
After years of picking up the pieces, and trying to figure life out, brick by brick God began helping me build my life on Him. This life He is helping me build is one based on faith, not fear. He, I’m learning, is the only One I can put my entire trust in. And the only way to remain truly safe, is to remain a child of God, with childlike faith.
So let us reach for and trust our Heavenly Father with childlike faith, knowing that He will carry us, especially in our most trying times, because He sure will. He is love, and where there is love, there is no place for fear. The God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, is walking with us every step of every moment. And He is the only One we can truly count on in this life. Our Heavenly Father will never fail us.
and said, “I assure you and most solemnly say to you, unless you repent [that is, change your inner self—your old way of thinking, live changed lives] and become like children [trusting, humble, and forgiving], you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. -Matthew 18:3-4 (AMP)
*This was a poem I wrote in the middle of the night in November of last year, when I was struggling with fear and anxiety. It often comes in waves, but is diminishing the more I learn to trust Him in all areas of my life.
So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold–though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. -1 Peter 1:6-7
When the storms are raging all around us, and the trials are piling up in heaps, how to we hold onto our faith and how do we count it all joy? These are the questions I am asking myself right now.
If faith is believing even when we cannot see, and we are supposed to walk by faith, not by sight, maybe I’m just not seeing yet. Yet is the key word. I may be blinded right now to what’s up ahead, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. Maybe, just maybe, He has something waiting around the bend that is far better than I can imagine. This is faith and hope and I’m going to hold onto it. Just because I can’t see, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. He knows the plans He has for us, and He tells us that they are plans to prosper us and not harm us, plans to give us a hope and a future. We can clutch onto this piece of Truth. But, that isn’t to say that we aren’t in the fiery furnace right now or that it’s easy to hang onto our faith.
As the hurricane of life sweeps in, He tells us to continue to be faithful. How though, when it’s all so heavy and it hurts? And then when we become flooded with doubts? One way we do this is by nourishing ourselves in the Word and soaking up His teachings, so that we can keep putting one foot in front of the other in a Christlike manner. His Word is refreshment for our souls. We read and we memorize. We tuck His words deep into our hearts so we don’t forget them. His Word is a lifeline to the One who carries us, the One who is hope.
We put our hope in our Father and we realize that He is doing something bigger here-He is training us and growing our faith during these times. And if we are afraid of the unknown or we can’t see a way out of the flames, we rise above our fear and we choose to trust. We make that choice and act as if we trust, even when it appears that the dark clouds will never make way for the sun to shine again. We continue to stand firm in Him, trusting that He knows what’s best for us and that He has our best interests in mind. Because He does.
And the joy part. This is where I stumble. How do we consider these trials joy? And how do we feel some joy in the inferno?
For one, we keep our eye on the prize. We will have trouble this side of Heaven. This is a given. Yet, Heaven is our reward and we have to continue to persevere and run the race for Him. We have to sacrifice our comforts now, by accepting the pain and suffering, and knowing that we will be blessed beyond measure later. We remember that this agony we are enduring in this moment will be nothing compared to the joy we will experience when we receive the crown that He has for us. So we look up and keep our focus on what is waiting for us. We can do something else though, too.
Phillipians 4:8 tells us “…whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” We think about the things in front of us that are lovely and praiseworthy and true and right. These are things that can give us joy now.
And worshiping Him in the pain will also bring us joy and peace. We raise our hands, crank up the Christian jams and we sing and dance through the pain and frustration, rejoicing in Him. He will comfort our hearts and give us the gift of joy, despite our circumstances.
In 1 Timothy 4: 8-10, Paul writes to Timothy, “Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come.” Then he states “This is why we work hard and continue to struggle, for our HOPE is in the living God, who is the Savior of all people.” The struggles will be there. He says that, but so is He, because where He is, our hope lies. And He never wavers.
He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord. -Psalms 112:7
He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. -John 15:2-6
When I was younger, I hated my hair. Then, I grew to love it. It was usually long, and always curly. Growing up, I’d hear the typical straight-haired comments- “Do you know how much money I spend at the salon to get hair like yours, getting a permanent?” or “You’re so lucky to have that kind of hair.” After I got married, and because we were trying to be frugal, I began letting my husband cut my hair-yes, I know-pretty shocking. I previously spent an upward of $65-not including a tip, just for a decent cut. Realizing my husband could do a better job than most stylists, I slowly began to trust him with my precious curls.
Well, about a week ago, I decided I wanted it a few inches shorter. I was tired of washing it, tired of styling it. It always ended up in a messy bun anyhow.
Sitting on the stool, he began hacking away like Edward Scissorhands. I realized I didn’t even care if he chopped too much off. This was pretty huge for me. Any other time and I would be constantly feeling and looking to make sure he didn’t cut an extra millimeter more than what I had instructed him. Tonight was different though. As the ringlets fell to the ground, it was as if a weight was dropping off of me and I just let it happen-without the worry, without the control. I let go and let whatever happen, happen.
Then, it dawned on me. This was symbolic of me dropping the weight of my life-my will, my ideas about how I think I should live, how we should raise our family, and instead, surrender to His will and what He wants for me and my family. It was about acceptance, surrendering to what is and where He has placed our family temporarily. That simple moment was about letting go and accepting right now for exactly what it is.
And as I sat there, I began thinking about how I’m in this season of pruning. God is in the process of trimming all of the dead branches to make way for the new shoots, the new fruit that he is beginning to produce in me. As He does this, I’m feeling a bit empty and bare. He’s stripping me of all I thought I was, in order to become more Christlike. It’s as though I’m being stripped of the bark to allow the good clean wood underneath to be used. Like when a log cabin is built, if the logs aren’t peeled first, the wood will begin to rot. It will decay. My life was once like this. It was in a state of decay because I wasn’t abiding in Him. and I didn’t even realize it. I was swimming up stream, getting caught in a vortex, and I couldn’t get out. I was getting nowhere, but I continued to live like I thought I knew best. This is self-will, my friends. And self-will never got me to where I truly wanted to be.
What I thought made me me, maybe wasn’t really me at all. Once, this social worker with a career that I worked so hard to obtain, running in this perpetual rat race, striving to be this super mom by chugging coffee all day long in order to fuel this fatigued body that was slowly breaking down, I was only sleeping three to five hours per night at most. I was the mom trying to make sure our girls got a top-notch education at a private Christian school, aiming to throw them Pinterest-worthy birthday parties, stressing about the perfect Christmas, making sure they were in the right after school activities. It was always about having the best and trying to be the best, but I see now that I wasn’t really living for Him at all. I was striving and striving and I didn’t need to.
I had it all backwards. See, I thought my identity lain in what I accomplished, but once those things were ripped from me and I drove myself into the ground too far for my health to bounce back, He kept me down so I could learn to have faith in Him-especially in the trials, to find my identity in Him-not in the world and not in my accomplishments, and He taught me and continues to teach me to trust Him more fully. I’m learning that my sole purpose in life is to love Him and love others like He does-His way, not mine. And despite the trials, His way is so much better. I’m home with my kids, homeschooling them and teaching them about Jesus daily. My husband has a work from home job, so we can travel and live wherever He wants us. I have less stress in my daily life and I’m healing. Our life is much simpler. We no longer own a lot of “stuff”, but we have Jesus, we have each other, and I’m slowly regaining my health. It is just enough and I have His peace, which far surpasses anything this world can give.
Even with all of the hardship we have experienced, we are extremely blessed. I see these blessings more frequently and more abundantly when I step aside and He is able to work, but this requires me to pick up His cross daily, and die a little more to myself. It’s a conscious effort and decision I must make every single day to turn my life and my will over to Him.
So let us continue to abide in Him, surrendering completely to His will. For only He can produce the fruit we truly desire. And only He can make us more like Him each and every day, But, and it’s a humungo BUT-we must continue to do this big thing-remain in Him. If we remain in Him, He will keep producing the good fruit-love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Because apart from Him, we can do nothing. My efforts on my own, have proven futile.
Truly, truly I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit -John 12:24
Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from Him. -Psalms 62:5
This piece goes out to one of my dearest friends, who is needing some hope. I pray that this may speak to her, and that I can be a vessel, spreading His love to those reading this.
There are times when all we have left is that sliver of hope. That teeny tiny flicker of light at the end of the long, dark tunnel, feels so far away. We need Jesus all the time, but these are the times we need Him the most-the times when instead of trying to let the problems swirl in our minds for hours on end, driving us mad because we don’t have the answers-these are the times when we need to reach for Him. And we can ask Him to fight for us. If we can’t fix it and we don’t have answers to these huge mountains of problems, we reach for Him. We hope in Him and we wait in Him. We can thrust our load upon Him and He will carry it. He will fight for us because He is a BIG, BIG God who is for us, and not against us.
It’s those times that we feel like we are going to break, that we put everything we’ve got into grasping hold of Him and not letting go, because He is the One who will sustain us. If all we can do is whisper softly-“Jesus, help me,” we do that. We hold onto the hope of the His Word and meditate on it day and night, because it is alive and powerful-sharper than any two-edged sword. We hand over the load we can’t fix, and we rest in Him. We wait upon Him, having faith and not allowing the fear to overtake us. When I am weary and I am worried and I am burdened, I imagine taking those worries and problems and dumping them into His Mighty hands so I no longer have to hold them. Then, I close my eyes and picture myself curled up in His palm, resting in peace, and He gives me comfort, because He is all I need.
And then we trust in Him, even when we don’t understand. We trust Him with all our hearts, and do not lean on our own understanding. Jesus says we do not understand right now what He is doing, but someday we will. In the winter, ice bridges form over the rivers here in Alaska. When crossing a frozen body of water, we have to trust that the ice bridge will hold us and get us over to the other side. God is that ice bridge of faith and even though we don’t understand what’s going on underneath the surface, we trust that He will keep us from cracking and tumbling into the frigid waters of fear and despair. He will hold us up and get us to the other side, but there is something else we can do too.
We can serve. Whether this be calling a friend to listen to how their day is going, picking up a few items at the grocery store for an elderly neighbor who can’t get out, or praying fervently for a family member, this gets our minds off of our problems. It not only blesses another, but it blesses us with joy in the process.
Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge. -Psalms 62:8
Here’s a not so pretty poem I wrote about chronic illness in July of this year. I was really struggling, y’all. Having persistent Lyme disease, I don’t always know what each day will bring. It’s the nature of this beast. Thankfully, the past few months have been significantly better than the day I wrote this. This last summer, I was hanging by a thread of hope.
Waves of hope ebb and flow
as thoughts of death come and go
Held hostage to weakness
Pushing to merely exist
Fatigue the enemy
Sucking life from this body
Beaten-slammed to the ground
No energy to rebound
A system waging war
No fight left here anymore
Pain shoved so far deep down
No longer can I be found
This illness has battered
My life long gone and shattered
Broken pieces of me
Shards of who I used to be
Nothing left but a shell
from days lived in brutal hell
Black as dark as the night
Alone, in bed, out of sight
Too frail to stop these thoughts
Into the abyss I drop
Undertows drowning me
A hope-filled heart now empty
Illuminate me, Lord
Fill me with Truth from your Sword
I don’t know about you, but as someone who struggles with anxiety, living during this Covid pandemic has been extremely challenging. Fear pops up constantly.
What can we do to put the fear and anxiety to rest? Leaning on Him is first and foremost. We can also pray and meditate on His Word. Here are some helpful verses to get us through these trying times:
1. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.-Philippians 4:6
He says be anxious for nothing. NOTHING. Instead, send your prayers up, while thanking Him, and making your requests known to Him. We can thank Him ahead of time too, having faith that He hears us and will give us what we need.
2. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. -1 Peter 5:7
How comforting to know that we can cast it all on Him-every single worry, every single fear, we can throw His way, because He CARES. The definition of care is to look after and provide for the needs of. And He is the Great Provider. He provides for all of our needs, including the need for peace. We must be still and trust, knowing that He is God, and He will quiet our fears.
3. Anxiety in a person’s heart weighs him down, but an encouraging word brings him joy. -Proverbs 12:25
Focusing on our worries and fears will only perpetuate them. If you struggle with anxiety, it’s easy for a single worry to turn into ten and then comes the snowball effect. Pretty soon the anxiety is full-blown out of control and it’s heavy, oh so heavy and hindering. Instead of focusing on our fears, let’s fix our eyes on His word, because it can encourage us. His Word is alive. And He can use His word to uplift us and bring us joy and peace that the world cannot give, even in the most difficult of circumstances.
4. Come to me all of you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. -Matthew 11:28
When we are weary from the ways of the world. and the heavy loads of fear and anxiety are weighing us down, we always have a place to rest. Jesus says “I will give you rest.” Worry and stress can lead to an endless pit of exhaustion, but He will refresh us. Instead of grasping for a temporarily fix, let us rest in Him and be renewed.
5. And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? -Matthew 6:27
If anything, stress and anxiety will lower our immune system and make us more vulnerable to illness. And stress, can actually shorten our lives. So let’s put it ALL in His hands-every anxious thought, every concern, every uncertainty that is causing us distress. Let’s give every bit of it to Him. He will carry it for us.
6. Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all. -2 Thessalonians 3:16
When I am stressing or my anxiety is running wild, I’m not resting in the One who can and will fill me with His peace. When the worry kicks in, I have to make a concerted effort to turn my eyes toward Him and keep turning them towards Him, because it’s so easy to get caught up in the chaos of this world and glance the other way. The world is not where our peace is. He is.
7. A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones. -Proverbs 17:22
Let’s break it down. Another word for crushed is overpowered. When our mind is overpowered by anxious thoughts, we can become brittle and more prone to a broken spirit. I think of how overpowering waves crash into land and slowly erode it. Stress and anxiety can do this to our minds and bodies over time.
When I think of crushed, I think of the word defeated. Medicine is used as a treatment for, or to prevent disease. Having a joyful heart can be looked at as being a preventative. It is good for our bodies and souls.
8. Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. -Ephesians 6:10-11
We need to fight daily against satan’s schemes to knock us down with our fears and anxiety. And we do this by putting on the full armor of God. We need to guard our hearts, our minds and our souls from the devil’s fiery darts of fear and stealthy ways of worry.
Be proactive and tighten the belt of Truth, so you can stand firm in the real Truth, rather than the world’s ideas. Put on the helmet of salvation and remind yourself Whose you are. Hold up the shield of faith to protect yourself with His Word. Strap on that breastplate of righteousness, staying close to Him, so that he can give you the kind of righteousness that can come only from Him. Do all you can to live and love like Him, being humble, honest, upright, honorable, and good to those around you. Grab hold of the sword of the Spirit-the Word of God, and pray always. And ready your feet to spread the Good News of the gospel of peace.
9. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. -2 Timothy 1:7
He has not made us fearful. Fear is from the enemy. God gives us peace and a sense of calm that only He can give. And God gives us a sound mind. I like how the amplified Bible expands on “sound mind”. It states:
…[He has given us a spirit] of power and of love and of sound judgement and personal discipline [abilities that result in a calm, well-balanced mind and self-control.]
10. You keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. -Isaiah 26:3
This is my very favorite verse. It’s one I turn to often when I am stressed or anxious. The peace He gives is beyond anything this world can give. He will blanket us with this peace if we keep our eyes fixed on Him and trust Him-but we must not let our eyes wander and let that fear slip in. We must guard our hearts and minds and not allow it to take over. Fear is the opposite of faith. And by putting our faith in Him, we are trusting. If we are in the fear though, we are not trusting.