Overcoming Despair

There has been much talk in the media about depression and suicide over the past few weeks. The shock of Robin William’s self-inflicted death has spurred this conversation. Looking from the outside, Robin seemed to have everything that most of us aspire to in life–career success, financial security, and a loving family. We have a difficult time accepting that this man who had brought us so much joy and laughter was not laughing along with us. Depression is a serious condition and far too many people struggle to overcome it.

Most people will never face know the depth of depression that would lead them to consider ending their lives. However, we all experience seasons of sadness and despair. These periods may result from the death of a loved one, illness, failure of a marriage or relationship, loss of employment, or any of a number of other causes. Some times it is difficult to accept our loss and move forward with live. Embed from Getty Images

Recently a number of pressures have weighed heavily on me. I found myself thinking constantly about these pressures. I wasn’t worried about them–I recognized that there was nothing I could do about these situations except to pray. Yet, I had a difficult time letting go and enjoying life. The refrain of the old Peter, Paul, and Mary song Old Coat rang in my head frequently. It goes “Take off your old coat and roll up your sleeves, Life is a hard road to travel, I believe.”

Life is often difficult. None of us will escape hard times. Many of us recall that Jesus himself told his disciples, “In this world you will have tribulation.” (John 16:33) However, that is only a portion of the verse. The complete verse reads, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

The key to having true peace and joy in life is to remember that Jesus has overcome the world. When we fix our eyes upon Jesus instead of focusing on our problem, we can “be of good cheer.” Today another chorus has been my anthem. It is from the old hymn Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus. The chorus says,

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

If you are struggling with sadness and despair, I urge you to fix your eyes on Jesus. In Him you will find true peace and hope.
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Am I the Only One?

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A Facebook friend recently started a post with the question, “Why do I feel like the only person left in this country who…?” The rest of the question dealt with an issue of morality and modesty. She sparked a highly opinionated discussion. One side argued the rights of adults to do whatever they want without concern about what others think. The other side argued for the right to be protected from a constant barrage of nudity and immorality in very public places. I whole-heartedly agree with the questioner and her supporters; our country is far too liberal and immoral and it is becoming increasingly difficult to raise children to be modest and moral in our society. However, continuing that Facebook argument is not the point of this post.

I want to address her opening phrase, “Why do I feel like I’m the only one?” It was, of course, a rhetorical question. The writer is fully aware that many others agree with her opinion. She is also fully aware, however, that she is in the minority in our society. Everywhere we look, we can see evidence that our society is increasing moving away from God and towards a more liberal, sinful society. It is easy to blame Hollywood, and certainly much of the blame rest of on the shoulders of Hollywood producers who have ‘pushed the boundaries’ of morality and acceptability since it’s inception. Hollywood claims to reflect society, but many of us recognize that Hollywood is, and has been for decades, a highly influential molder of society’s values. Christians and others who desire a more moral society are losing the battle.

In the Old Testament, we read a statement similar to the question in the Facebook post. Elijah was facing a desperate situation. The Jewish nation had turned its back on God and chosen instead to worship Baal. Elijah alone stood up to the 400 prophets of Baal and defeated them. Afterwards, Queen Jezebel threatened to kill him. Elijah felt like he was fighting the battle alone and ran for his life. God sent an angel to care for him. Later God questioned him about why he ran away. Elijah replied,

“I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” 1 Kings 19:10.

God responded that Elijah needed to go back and continue the fight and that God would supply others to help him in the battle. In fact, God told him that there were 7,000 others in Israel who had refused to bow to Baal and were serving the Lord God.

It is easy to get discouraged when everywhere we look we see the decaying of our society. But, like Elijah, we must continue the fight. We must fight for a return to traditional values and standards of behavior that reflect the high value God places on each individual. But that is not enough. We must train our children to love the Lord God with all their hearts and souls and minds. God’s Word must be the foundation on which we base morality and standards of behavior.

Christians are in the minority in American society today. Yet, none of us are alone. There are millions of Christians fighting the battle against the darkness of this world everyday. And the Lord God fights with us, as He fought with the Israelites. Let us be inspired by the words Moses instructed the priests to use to send the Israelites off into battle:

Hear, Israel: Today you are going into battle against your enemies. Do not be fainthearted or afraid; do not panic or be terrified by them. For the Lord your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory.” Deuteronomy 20:3, 4

No, my friend, you are not the only one.

Resilience Despite Mistakes and Adversity

I have just finished chapter 5 of Jodi Detrick’s book The Jesus-Hearted Woman.  The chapter is titled ‘Resilience.’  In it Detrick discusses the need to continue fulfilling the tasks God has called us to even when (1) we make mistakes, (2) others hurt us, or (3) life throws curve balls our way.  Detrick refers to these events as My Bad, Their Bad and Too Bad.  Her discussion questions at the end of the chapter focused on Joseph and the resilience he needed in order to become the leader God desired him to be. Unfortunately, Joseph experienced a number of My Bad, Their Bad and Too Bad moments along the way.

As a young man, Joseph had a dream that his brothers bowed down to him.  Unfortunately, sharing the first dream was one of Joseph’s ‘My Bad’ moments.  His brothers already were angry with him because he brought a bad report about them to his father, and they were jealous that their father loved Joseph more than his other sons. This dream added fuel to the fire.  Genesis 37:8 tells us, “So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words.”  If this wasn’t enough, Joseph had a second dream in which not only his brothers but also his parents bowed down to him.  And, of course, he shared this dream with his father and brothers–another ‘My Bad’ action. His brothers were angry and wanted revenge on Joseph.

Joseph experienced a ‘Their Bad’ moment when his brothers sold him as a slave to a company of Ishmaelites.  Joseph was bought by Potiphar, a captain of the guard in Pharaoh’s army.  God favored Joseph, and he rose to a position of prominence in Potiphar’s household. Apparently Joseph wasn’t yet ready for the leadership role God had in store for him, as he was falsely accused of inappropriate behavior toward his master’s wife and thrown in prison–another ‘Their Bad’ moment.

We don’t know how long Joseph was imprisoned, but we do know that thirteen years passed between the time his brothers sold him and when Pharaoh released him.  At least several of these years were spent in prison.  It must have been difficult for Joseph to sit in prison year and year waiting for God to deliver him.  I am sure that he recognized that he and his father bore some responsibility for his brothers’ hatred toward him, but he was completely innocent of the charges brought against him by Potiphar’s wife.  It would have been easy for Joseph to become bitter about the circumstances of his life.  He could have convinced himself that God was against him and that his life was over.  But Joseph didn’t get angry and he didn’t give up.  He persevered.  He was resilient despite all the adverse things that had happened to him.

Genesis 39: 21 – 22 tells us, “But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him mercy, and He gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison.  And the keeper of the prison committed to Joseph’s hand all the prisoners who were in the prison; whatever they did there, it was his doing.”  Joseph’s rise in the prison to a position of leadership did not come overnight.  He had to prove to the keeper that he was reliable and responsible. As he did, his responsibilities increased until Joseph was running the prison.   After some time had passed, the king’s chief butler and chief baker were imprisoned.  Joseph interpreted dreams for each of them which came to pass just as he had foretold. Joseph had shared his plight with the butler and asked the butler to mention his situation to Pharaoh.  How he must have hoped that his release from prison would come soon.  Yet, we read in Genesis 41:1, that another two years passed before the chief butler remembered Joseph.  ‘Too Bad,’ but again Joseph was resilient and persevered.

Eventually, however, Pharaoh had a dream which his wise men could not interpret.  It was then that the butler remembered Joseph.  Joseph interpreted the dreams, being careful to give all the glory to God.  He shared with Pharaoh that God was giving him an opportunity to prepare Egypt for the coming famine.  Pharaoh appointed Joseph to a position of great power, second in command only to Pharaoh himself.  Joseph was used by God to save Egypt and Joseph’s own family from starvation.

We can only surmise as to why God delayed Joseph’s release from prison.  Certainly, in prison Joseph was developing the leadership skills he would need later as a leader over Egypt.  During those years, Joseph continued to serve the Lord and God’s favor was on him.  As the leader of Egypt, Joseph had grown and changed much from the arrogant teenager his brothers had sold into slavery.  When Joseph appeared before Pharaoh, he was humble and quick to give the glory to God.  God opened Pharaoh’s eyes to see that Joseph was the right person to lead Egypt through the coming famine.

Any one in leadership positions faces My Bad, Their Bad, and Too Bad situations on occasion.  The challenges Joseph faced prepared him for more leadership responsibilities. Like Joseph, we must be resilient and allow the adversities we face to help us develop as leaders.  As we do, we will be able to do more and accomplish more, until we complete the work God has called us to do.

I Got My Life Back

Have you ever had to give up a job, a project, or a dream that you really wanted, only to find afterwards that the sacrifice had given you your life back?  I have had the experience a few times.

The first occassion was about 20 years ago.  I was teaching part-time in the small private school my sons attended.  I had a wonderfully supportive principal and liked most of my fellow teachers.  The families of the students were encouraging and supportive.  Theoretically, my work day ended at noon, giving me three hours of ‘free’ time before my children got out of school. However, the free time was often taken up with grading, lesson planning, and filling in where needed.  Additionally, the school had some issues which I couldn’t overlook.  I struggled with these issues my last year before making the decision to not return.  I chose instead to homeschool my sons.  A friend questioned that decision.  She had homeschooled her son previously and she told me, “When I sent him back to school, I felt like I got my life back.”

For me, the opposite was true.  As I adjusted to being a home-school mom, I realized I had gotten my life back.  I enjoyed teaching, but it was time-consuming and extracted a toil on my family.  Homeschooling allowed my children and I to sleep in and be better rested.  It allowed me to focus my ‘best energies’ on my husband and sons and to have more time to take care of my home and prepare more home-cooked meals.  An added benefit was the ability to travel and take vacations when everyone else was in school.  I never regretted my decision to be a full-time mother and homeschool teacher, even though that was not what prompted me to make the decision to my teaching job.

After six years of homeschooling, my husband and I decided to open a restaurant.  The boys were hold enough to work in the restaurant.  The plan was that my husband would run the restaurant in the mornings, while I home schooled the boys; the boys and I would cover the evening shifts.  It was a good plan, but needless to say, things did not work out exactly as planned.  Homeschool and family life soon took a back seat to the demands of business ownership.  After much soul-searching, we decided to sell the restaurant.  It was a difficult decison for me, as I felt we had worked so hard to make this dream a reality.  I was heartbroken that it hadn’t worked out as planned.  Yet, once it was sold, I again had the feeling that giving it up allowed me to get my life back.

Once the business was sold and we had moved back to our home town, our twins asked to enroll at the local Christian high school.  They needed a math teacher, so I found myself teaching again.  I loved being part of this wonderful Christian school, but it was demanding. I taught seven classes daily in addition to being a class sponsor and helping out with other clubs and projects.  I stayed for two years after the twins graduated and thoroughly enjoyed it. Yet, I felt God leading me to leave.  Again, it was a hard decision.  God led me to another job that allows me to use the skills I have honed through my past work experiences and through business ownership.  And, once again, I felt like I got my life back.  Teaching was very demanding and required many hours of grading and planning after school hours which took away from my family time.    It was also very rewarding, which made the decision to quit that much more difficult.

Since leaving teaching, I have had time again to engage in hobbies and try my hand at some new ones, including writing and blogging.  I have had two novels published and recently completed a Bible study on money and finances. God has opened doors that I would not have had the opportunity to walk through if I had remained a teacher.

Perhaps you are wrestling with making a change in your life, such as leaving a job you love or giving up on a dream.  Change is never easy, but it can lead to new and exciting opportunites that would never come if the change were not made.  Search your heart, pray, and allow God to lead you.  As a Christian, I know that God has a great plan for my life.  His plans and purposes are much more wonderful that the plans I would make for myself.  I have found that I am happiest and feel most like ‘I got my life back’ when I follow the path He lays out for me.

“‘For I know the plans I have for you’, declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'”  Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)

Have you ever made a change and felt like you got your life back?

Do you feel God is leading you to make a change now and you aren’t sure that you want to let go of your current job and/or dream?

Letting Go of A Dream

Tonight I am contemplating how difficult it is to let go of dreams, even when it is clearly in one’s best interest to do so.  This spirit was brought on by watching You’ve Got Mail.  I love this movie and have watched it many times.  It is a romantic comedy and, as such, it ends on a happy note. Yet, much of the movie deals with the struggle of a young woman to keep afloat the children’s book shop her mother opened 42 years earlier.  Eventually she makes the difficult decision to close the shop. She feels that her mother’s dream has died. She expresses her despair to her Internet pen pal as, “People are always telling you that change is a good thing. But all they’re really saying is that something you didn’t want to happen at all… has happened.”

Store closingDifferent life

 

The movie resonates with me because I know the feeling of having to decide to discontinue being in business.  In our case, we sold our business rather than closing it. Several years ago my husband and I opened a restaurant in a small town.  We had high hopes and great expectations that this business would be enjoyable, support our family, and be handed down to our children.  The business was profitable but not exceedingly so.  We worked hard and it consumed most of our family time.  There were days we enjoyed it, but many days it just felt overwhelming.  Over time it became apparent that we were not cut out to be business owners, and  we decided to sell the restaurant.  It was not an easy decision.  On many levels, we felt like failures.  Fortunately, a buyer was found and we walked away with our finances and credit in order and returned to more traditional employment.

I watched You’ve Got Mail many times during the months we agonized over what to do and the ensuing months between putting the restaurant on the market and closing the deal.  We weren’t being forced out of business, yet I empathized with Kathleen Kelly’s struggle and felt her despair.  Ironically, after watching the movie tonight, I got on Facebook and saw that a local business woman has decided to close her business after 10 years.  I am acquainted with this woman and know how hard she has worked to make her business a success.  She is a gifted seamstress and makes unique and interesting handbags.  However, her business was hurt terribly when the economy crashed and, although the economy has recovered somewhat, her business has not.  Many people in our area are concerned about another government shutdown and/or furloughs.  Others have seen their insurance premiums rise as the Affordable Care Act proves to not be the solution to the healthcare crisis.  Many others are simply more cautious with their money, having struggled through significant periods of unemployment.  I am sure that other factors played into her decision to close the business.  My heart aches for her, even as I recognize that this is not the end of the world.  It is, however, the end of this particular dream.

My husband and I have had a good life since selling the restaurant.  I don’t regret the decision at all, yet there is still a twinge of pain in remembering the death of that dream.  Neither do I regret the decision to open the restaurant.  New doors have opened for me because I have had the experience of being a business owner. Today I assist others in evaluating whether business ownership is the right decision for them.  If they decide to move forward, I assist them in writing their business plans, applying for loans, developing marketing strategies, and making other decisions about their businesses.  I have valuable insights to share from my experiences in opening, running, and selling my business.

My friend will move on and find new dreams to follow.  I hope that she will look back on her period of business ownership as a good experience and that she will have learned many valuable lessons that will guide her as she moves forward.  Someone posted on her Facebook page the comment, “When a door closes…a window opens!” That was certainly true in our case.  Closing the door on our dream of restaurant ownership opened other doors and allowed us to choose a path that was better for us.  And I believe it will be true for my friend, as well.

My husband and I are blessed to have built our lives on the firm foundation of Jesus Christ.  We know that God has a plan for our lives and we trust Him to guide our steps.  Some times the path is rocky and filled with trials and disappointments; other times the path is smooth and filled with triumphs and joy. Either way, our hope is in the Lord.  In Jeremiah 29:11, we read, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.'” We don’t know what the coming year holds for us.  We look forward to it in anticipation of new dreams and plans as we strive to follow God’s leading.

Whether you have let go of a dream or are trying to make a new dream come true, please know that God has a plan for you.  He wants to help you make the dreams He has for you come true.  I pray that 2014 will be a year of letting go of old dreams and making new dreams come true.

What dreams is God placing in your heart for the coming year?

No Whining

When my children were growing up, one of our house rules was “No Whining.”   Usually their inclination to whine was in reaction to being told to do their chores  or to help around the house. I worked diligently to help them realize that (1) whining was not going to change anything–they would still have to do as they were instructed–and (2) the tasks they were whining about generally required less time and energy than they expended in whining.  My sons are grown up and highly responsible men now.  I am proud that they carry out their responsibilities without whining or complaining.

Whining is not restricted to children, however.  Many adults have fallen into the bad habit of whining about the difficulties life throws at them.  Life is never easy, and God never promised that it would be.  Most of the time, life seems pretty good or at least manageable. However, there are times when it seems we can’t get a break.  One crisis follows another with barely enough time to recover in between them.   How we respond during those difficult times determines whether we build character and perseverance or we figuratively ‘throw in the towel’ and give into whining and complaining.

I heard a story yesterday of a woman, Linda, who had been through a very challenging time several years ago.  She had decided to take a risk and start her own business.  A few months later, her husband was severely injured.  The doctors estimated that he would need three months to recover.  His actual recovery took nearly two years. Six months after his injury, their daughter was deployed and left with them her infant daughter.  Linda was now responsible for a helpless baby and her recovering husband, as well as trying to maintain and grow her fledgling business.  It was a challenge that many people would not be able to handle.

Rather than whining or giving up her business, Linda allowed her circumstances to motivate her to take control of her life. She developed her time management skills and created systems that work for her.  Her business is helping people get organized.  She helps people sort through paper, clothing, household items, and other belongings to determine what adds value to their lives and what is cluttering up their lives. Due to the skills she has developed, she was able to expand her business to teach people time management skills in addition to clutter management.  Rather than whining about her circumstance, Linda responded positively and grew as a person and a businesswoman.

I have known Linda for a few years, yet I had not heard this story.  Linda was speaking to a group on time management skills and shared her story only to demonstrate how important these time management skills were during this challenging time in her life.  Her skills are insightful and I plan to share them in another post.    I appreciated that Linda could share her story without trying to elicit sympathy, but rather to encourage each of us in the audience to know we can handle much more than we think we can if we manage our time properly and focus on adding value to our lives.

Philippians 2:14 tells us to “Do everything without complaining or arguing.”  This doesn’t mean that we will always be happy about our circumstances.  Linda certainly was not happy that her husband was hurt or that his recovery period was much longer than the doctors had predicted.  However, she knew that she could not change her circumstances by complaining.  She could have whined to God and to the doctors that these circumstances were too difficult, that she didn’t have time for these challenges with a new business, or that life simply was not fair.  Linda did not choose to whine.  She chose to move forward without whining or complaining.

Life is challenging.  You may be going through a challenging circumstance right now.  If now, you will be soon, I can assure you.  When life gets rocky, remember to keep your eyes firm fixed on God, as He is the only source of help.  Keep doing your best each day with God’s help.  And remember, “No Whining.”

Showing Up One’s Enemies

Have you ever been in a situation where you were hurt or embarrassed and you said to yourself, “I’ll show them.”?  I have on many occasions.  I can remember thinking something along the lines of, “If I win the award, that will teach them.”  Or “People will take me seriously if ….”  It’s seems odd to me that as I write this, I cannot remember any of the offenses that caused me to have those thoughts, but I clearly recall thinking them.  I hope, and pray, that my lack of recall stems from truly forgiving those who hurt me.

As I read Psalm 109 this morning, I felt like David was expressing this same basic sentiment.  He begins Psalm 109 by calling on the Lord to come to his defense.  “O God, whom I praise, do not remain silent.”  (Psalm 109:1).  David spend the next several verses laying out his complaint to the Lord:

  • “they have spoken against me with lying tongues” (v. 2)
  • “they attack me without cause” (v. 3)
  • “they accuse me” (v. 4)
  • “they repay me evil for good, and hatred for friendship” (v. 5)

David then clearly and specifically asked God to destroy his enemies.  He asks that God cut his enemy’s life short, leaving his wife and children with no means of support, so that they have to take to the streets as beggars.  He furthers requests that no one show kindness to this family and that the family name be blotted out.

David then reminds the Lord that David was not the only one his enemy treated badly.  “For he never thought of doing a kindness, but hounded to death the poor and the needy and the brokenhearted.” (v. 16)

Does David’s complaint sound familiar?  If we are honest, we all have to admit that we have made, or at least thought, similar statements.  “He’s the meanest man I have ever met.”  “She never has a nice word to say about anyone.”  “He would step on his own mother if it would help his reach his goal.”

heaping coals

There will always be mean people in this world, and when we encounter them, we often wish evil on them, as David did.  Or we hope to show them up.  If we can play fair and still win, that will really show them.  Or if God blesses us mightily, they will wish they had been nicer, fairer, kinder.  This sentiment is expressed by David near the end of this psalm.

In verse 21, David writes “But you, O Sovereign Lord, deal well with me for your name’s sake; out of the goodness of your love, deliver me.”  He goes on to say, “Let them know that it is your hand, that you, O Lord, have done it.  They may curse, but you will bless; when they attack, they will be put to shame, but your servant will rejoice.  My accusers will be clothed with disgrace and wrapped in shame as in a cloak. (Psalm 109: 27 – 29)

If David, a man after God’s own heart, wanted to show up his enemies and disgrace them, we cannot hope to feel less animosity toward our enemies.  The desire to show up one’s enemies and force them to realize that God is blessing you is a natural one.  However, like David, we need to remember that if God answers our prayer as we desire, it is for His sake and for His glory that He does so.  David reminded God that since David is his servant, God is glorified when David prospers.

We should also remember that David’s son Solomon advised treating our enemies with kindness.  “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.  In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you.”  (Proverbs 25:22)  Solomon is reminding us that although we may pray for God to embarrass our enemies and show them up by blessing us, we are still to treat our enemies fairly.   And Jesus taught us to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  (Matthew 5:44)   Justice is to be left to the Lord. 

love your enemies

So, the next time you feel like showing up your enemy, maybe you should stop and pray for him.  Ask God what kindnesses He would have you show him.  You may be heaping burning coals on his head, but you may also open his eyes to the love of the Lord, and in doing so,  your enemy may become your brother in Christ.

What situations have occurred in your life where you really wanted God to honor you in a way that would show up your enemies and make them take notice that God had blessed you?

How have you ‘heaped burning coals’ on your enemy’s head?