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Not forsaken by God…

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Sometimes we feel like we are swimming alone in the ocean of our own troubles and sorrows. I’m here to share that sometimes we have to look for the mercies of God on purpose.

Mercies can be as small as this beautiful sunflower that volunteered to grow in my garden this year.

Surrounded by mercies great and small we still feel alone on this journey!

It’s true in a way. No one human can fully understand the unique challenges each of us face. “The heart knows its own bitterness.”

Families facing disabling health issues are each truly unique. Pain levels differ. Meds differ. Finances differ. The level of challenge differs! Solutions that work for one will not work for another.

What is not unique is that sorrow and trouble chase us all during our time on planet earth. “In this world you will have tribulation.”

Some folks seem to get off scott-free. If we’re fair, we will admit we have no idea what sorrows they actually have lived through or will yet face. Tragedy smacks us in the face every time we see even a small bit of news.

“And I will pray the Father, and He WILL give you another Counselor, that He may be WITH you forever: the Spirit of truth whom the world cannot receive, for it does not see Him, neither does it know Him.” John 14:16-17

Jesus is speaking to His disciples and, truly, all who would yet become His disciples.

It is the last teaching He gave them before going to the cross to lay down His life to atone for sin.

He knew they would be sad and afraid! He knew they would feel alone — perhaps forsaken.

His heart of compassion shines through yet again.

He leaves them with the most amazing and wonderful of promises! Through the Spirit’s ministry and indwelling, they would never be alone in their struggles. Beautiful, merciful Savior!

His Spirit is one of our greatest mercies. Counselor, Guide, Comforter, Intercessor, Helper — these are some of the key roles this often-forgotten member of the Trinity works in your life and mine.

Do you ever wonder how to pray for a situation that seems so hopeless and impossible that you have no idea what or how to pray?

We often fall back on the grand promise of Romans 8:28 that “all things work together for good to those who love God…”

Wait! Back up a few verses: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know what to pray for as we ought but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groaning too deep for words. he who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” Romans 8:26-27

Are things so hard and crazy confusing that you don’t even know how to pray? The Spirit has you covered in Divine prayers.

Are you out of options? Your groans and sorrows are not hidden from Him.

Whatever your struggle, dear sister in Christ, let’s stake our claim on His mercies this week.

“I believe

I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.

Wait on the Lord; be strong, and may your heart be stout; wait on the Lord.”

Sounds kinda like a Romans 8:28, doesn’t it? Only it’s actually Psalm 27:13-14.

When you hang out in the Psalms, you find lots of relevant prayers to fuel your conversations with God, even if you just sigh and groan and praise along with the Psalmist.

Like me, maybe this verse has been your prayer? ” Turn to me, and be gracious to me for I am isolated and afflicted.” Ps. 26:16

Chronic illness brings a lot of crazy to all of our lives, right?

I believe…I am not forsaken! His Spirit is with me on the days I just groan. 

How about you?

I know I’ve missed a few weeks blogging, but I’m committed to encouraging words wherever I can find them and fit them in. Hugs and groaning prayers for you, too, cause I really don’t know what you need. 

 

 

3 ways to unlock Doubting Castle

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Survey question: how many of you have read Pilgrim’s Progress in some form? Watched the film version?

If you have, you may recognize this blog’s title. If you haven’t, I will give you a tiny overview of the plot line. The key character is Pilgrim. He is on a dangerous journey to the Celestial City. Alone at times, he also meets and travels with two key friends for part of his   journey.

One important fact to note is that the author John Bunyan wrote this classic allegory in prison.

Quite a few tales of courage, faith, and redemption have been linked to prison time.

Joseph — betrayed, lied about, imprisoned;

Corrie and Betsy Ten Boom incarcerated by the Nazis for hiding Jews;

Les Miserable’s Jean Valjean languishing in a wretched labor prison for the paltry crime of stealing a loaf of bread are just a few examples.

The particular prison Doubting Castle in the Pilgrim’s Progress is run by the GIant Despair. He lurks around the countryside and snags those who have strayed off course or missed a sign for the Celestial City.

The Giant Despair caught Pilgrim and his friend when they took a side road.

Ever met this demonic Giant? I know I have. I’m sure our husbands have.

Chronic illness and depression are bedfellows.

The Psalmist wrestled with Despair. “Why are you cast down, oh my soul? Hope in God.”

He admits in Psalm 34, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous.”

HE couldn’t pretend the pain, sorrow, and affliction didn’t exist. It does.

If you aren’t currently undergoing some personal hardship or sorrow, just scroll down your Facebook or turn on the TV. The tragedies will sucker-punch your soul. (If you have a tender heart of compassion like Jesus, that is.) What a broken world!

Well, it’s one thing if your sick husband is chronically depressed.

It’s quite another thing when that depression spills over to your heart. You’re the caregiver. The heart of the home. Someone has to keep their head above water, right?

Like Pilgrim and his friend in the stone cold dungeon of the Castle of Despair, neither one could figure out how to break free. No way out. No strength to fight the Giant. Certain doom!

Suddenly they remember the key on a chain around Pilgrim’s neck. It’s called the key of faith! In the nick of time, they try the key. It fits the lock.

Making a daring jailbreak, they return to the narrow path that leads to eternal life.

I love the key of faith reference! So many times I forget about that key. Faith was a gift given to me by God.

When trial strikes, I feel the panic attempt to swallow me like being hauled off to a dark castle dungeon. Like a friend wrote to me recently, I hate that feeling! I should know better!

Time and time again I have seen God answer prayer and provide for our current need when we cry out to Him in prayer. So this little post is a reminder to me and an outstretched hand of hope and encouragement for you.

1.) Take time to “Be still, and know that I AM God.”

Like that famous line of poetry ( Browning?),”How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” Remembering AND naming God’s great acts and His attributes is very faith- building. Pray these attributes.  God, I know You are faithful. I know You are just, yet merciful. I know there is no limits to Your resources. Your wisdom is bigger far than my problems right now.

2.) Like Israel’s stones of remembrance, make a list of answered prayers.

Yes, there is surprising power in the worn out cliche, Count your blessings, name them one by one. When I do this, my eyes just can’t stop leaking! Sometimes, like Paul and Silas, you start praising and the prison door does swing right open. Other times, your patience and faith will grow when you feel like you are forgotten in prison like Joseph. But God was with Joseph all along.

3.) Ask a friend to pray with you.

That happened to me this week, also. A friend reached out to me. We shared prayer requests. It was so very encouraging! Dear ones, do not hesitate to ask for prayer. Right here. Right now. Not only will I pray for you, I know other readers will.

Pray for me, for us? I want to hold tightly to the key of faith as my husband starts chemo this week. Also, months of pain management has failed to help. Chronic pain! Ugh! It’s wicked ugly awful! It wreaks havoc on body and mind.

With Jesus’ strength, He will keep our souls and our feet on the paths of righteousness straight to the gates of the Celestial City. Mutual prayers needed. Share below, please!

 

 

 

 

What to do when you’re dried up and worn out

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By the end of winter, I’m not the only one crying the blues.

Some of you LOVE winter. That’s fine with me. I’m not offended. But some of us have to dig deep to remain cheerful and upbeat for the first three months of each year.

We live in an old, 1885 home. It’s never quite snug and warm in every room.

Winter seems to bring a blizzard of troubles, too. It’s as if the minions of hell know we’re at our weakest.

One year we discovered we had to rebuild part of our foundation in FEBRUARY! Just as we had the floor open semi-permanently, a major cold snap hit. It makes me shudder, still, to think about that.

Inevitably my husband succumbs to weeks of a semi-bedridden state. I pick up the slack. Once it was MRSA. Other times, the old immune system just bottomed out.

So enough already of this list of winter miseries. What are some ways to combat the blues?

1.) Try very hard to get out of the house to worship in the Lord’s Day.

I’ll be brutally honest here. There’s been many a Sunday when I open my eyes and can’t feel like getting out of bed. I have to shake myself and make myself get up.

Maybe your husband can’t go at all. Or maybe you are the caregiver for someone bedridden. Maybe http://www.sermonaudio.com can become a secondary church service for you.

I would still encourage you to ask for some help or a fill-in companion so that you can touch base with God’s people in person at least sometimes. The Lord places a special importance on gathering together. Hebrews 10:24-25. David, the Psalmist, speaks of his gladness in going up to the house of the LORD.

I rarely leave worship without at least one encouraging nugget of truth to carry with me.

2.) Say yes to visitors.

I’ve been regretful that I’ve not exercised more of an open door policy. To my shame, I’m always worried about my home being in an acceptable state. My food might not be the finest. Really? Is that important? The simple gift of company is a worth it!

When I’ve invited a guest from church or local friends to visit us, it has done a world of good for my family’s morale. We. Feel. Almost. Normal. Today we had company. It was wonderful! My food? Hmmm… not terrific.

Right now, I have someone else I need to invite over. It’s on my to-do list. The meal will be simple. I will only clean a few rooms. That’s the best I can do.

What about you? Too tired to cook and clean for company? I hear you! Maybe you could even just do snacks on the back patio? Or a cup of tea and sliced apples with a friend? Make the visit as low stress and restful as possible.

 3.) Most importantly, know that God is with you in the valley of the shadow, in all the winter seasons of life. His love is your greatest hope! Here’s a passage I’ve thought about all week.

Although the fig tree shall not blossom,

neither shall fruit be in the vines;

the labor of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat;

the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls:

Yet I will rejoice in the LORD.

I will joy in the God of my salvation.

The LORD God is my strength, and He will make my feet like hind’s feet, and He will make me to walk upon mine high places.”

Habakkuk 3:17-19

The context of these words is fear, trouble, judgement of the nations, and the depth of human tragedy and brokenness.

It’s like being frozen in winter miles from anyone with hungry wolves surrounding you. You alone facing the whole wolf pack…

The prophet finds light and joy in one Source alone. He finds conquering strength. He finds the ability to teeter on the edge of precipices of trouble with the agility of a mountain goat.

In the end, dear caregiving wife, only the LORD can cause you to overcome.

With the eternal aid of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we can find joy on this journey even in our sorrow, weary bodies, and worn souls. Praying we will overcome together.

Thine be the glory forever and ever, Amen.

 

enCOURAGEment for lonely caregivers…

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Confession: I recently got razzed by my husband for indulging in a bit of southern gospel.

To be fair, I returned the favor by mentioning his return to his childhood roots. This genre of music, ahem, largely focuses on how sad and lonesome you are because your lover left you in the dust, the dog died, the bills are piling up, and the old pick-up truck’s run its last mile. 

To tell you the truth, my life kind of looks like his genre of music.

When I got a request from a reader for a post on the lonely side of caregiving, it hit an instant chord with me. If you’re a long-term caregiver, it’s especially true. I was reminded again that caregivers deal with this constantly, but we aren’t the only ones feeling lonely!

One of my senior saints told me again this week for the upteenth and maybe last time, “It’s a great life if you don’t weaken.”

She and her husband have walked with Jesus for more than forty years. They’re in their eighties. He’s faced two bouts of cancer. Since December her husband has been in and out of the hospital.  Last week, their only nearby daughter was in the ICU while they were packing and moving into a senior apartment.

I sat and cried and hugged her. I have never seen her so sad and lonely. “My daughter’s been my rock. I’ve leaned on her a lot. She would be right here helping me today. Now I don’t even know what is wrong with her!”

All the while, her home of more than forty years was suddenly being torn apart like a living plant being ripped up by the roots. This lady has literally kept most things in the same spot for the past ten years that I’ve done housekeeping for them. Every. Single. Item.

My tears dripped and mingled with hers. I wonder if her heart will ever recover from this dual shock. Yet, I pray in hope – hope for her and for myself.

Where is the hope in this, you wonder?

If you’re at all like me, no one near you know really  understands your struggles as a wife to a chronically ill husband.

At home you don’t share your struggles because you don’t want to further depress your struggling spouse.

You certainly don’t want to discourage your children, if you’re a parent.

There’s no human being to talk to, you feel like, who will listen with compassion and not criticize your already bruised heart. However, like me, you have friends. Christian friends who love the Lord — they express their care and compassion in the ways they know how.

But you are too busy trying to survive to get to their Bible studies, their ladies’ nights out, etc., because you are literally doing the job of two people at home. It’s incredibly hard to find time to invest in other relationships.

Jesus is our only true hope in loneliness. My relationship to Him is my top investment.

His hands have made and fashioned me. (Psalm 139) He knows my every move and my every thought. Have you read this passage lately? Put your name into it as you read!

I can pour out all my feelings and needs to Him without shame, because He already knows what I’m struggling with at the moment.

When I do have shame because of sin, I can freely confess this and be freely forgiven. His wounds have paid my ransom.

While we can never receive from another human being this level of understanding, we should not cut ourselves off from Christ’s body, either.

We want to let Christ make us better, not allow ourselves to be bitter.

We have to be willing to continue to love Christ’s body even when it’s messy, even ugly, and imperfect, just like us.

Some things you just cannot share.

Some things will never be understood by someone who has never walked this road.

But share what you can. It takes courage.

Be willing to have some vulnerability. Be willing to say to that friend who asks how things are going, “Yes, life is incredibly challenging. Pray for me to juggle wisely! Or, pray for this upcoming doctor’s visit to actually be worth our time and effort.”

I recently told a friend that my husband has been walking through a very dark valley. She knew this partially already because of some things he had (unwisely) posted on the internet. Sigh.

But, she didn’t know the whole story. I couldn’t and won’t tell her everything, but I did share what I could. If she could see the whole picture, like God does, her perspective would be very different. She’s not God. Neither am I. But I’m the one person on earth that should have the most compassion and understanding for my husband. That’s what Jesus wants from me.

Even Jesus’ closest friends fell asleep during his hour of deepest need. Peter even betrayed him. Jesus does understand loneliness.

I’ve come to understand you have to choose your “inner circle” wisely. Shut out the negative. Shut out those who think they’re helping by criticizing, at least in the sense of limiting contact. But make sure you also keep those close to your heart who truly love Jesus.

Soak yourself in what is true, lovely, and right. Once again, may I recommend the Psalms?

True love and understanding waits for you right here. There is not a sorrow or struggle you feel that isn’t mentioned in the Psalms.

I also love the book of John where Jesus gives out the different I AMs.  I am the Bread of Life. I am the Living Water. I am the True Vine. I am the Good Shepherd. I am the Light of the World.  All I need, He is.

Then there’s Isaiah. The gospel and Jesus are so clearly seen in this book, it’s amazing. Parts of it read like a Psalm. For sure, the prophet knew his Messiah!

The Word. The Church. Christ’s Bride. I find these to be true cures for loneliness. I hope this helps you battle loneliness, too. How may I pray for you this week?

 

3 Prayers of Hope for January

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It’s January, a month commonly known for depression and suicide, according to an December 2015 article on wwwstatnews.com by Sharon Begley.

It’s also been my experience as a caregiver.  Depression hits hard this time of year. There are medical and physical reasons for this.

(I was reminding a young friend of this today as she goes to visit her sister with postpartum depression. Medical and physical reasons, dear. It’s not a sin issue, so deal gently.)

Once we get to mid March, the mood lightens. Spring is on its way. 

You and I need our weapons of warfare prepped for battle right now. It’s stinkin’ tough to not get sucked into the negative mire.

1) Pray what Jesus taught His disciples, known as the Lord’s Prayer.

“Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name,

Thy kingdom come,  Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,

and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,

For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

I noticed a similar prayer in Isaiah 64.1   “Oh, that You would rend the heavens and come down….” Is. 64  

Job prayed this prayer, too, and God spoke to him directly!

Father, please come!

Please work do your kingdom work right now in my family.

Please deliver us from all the evil that illness inflicts.

Lead us not into any temptation to sin.

Provide for our physical and emotional needs.

Bring Yourself glory through our fragile lives.

2) Prayer of confession: talk to God about any known sins. Sin weighs one down.

6 But we all are as an unclean thing,
and all our righteousness is as filthy rags;
and we all fade as a leaf,
and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.
7 There is no one who calls on Your name,
who stirs up himself to take hold of You;
for You have hidden Your face from us
and have consumed us because of our iniquities.

Isaiah 64:4-7

Sound familiar? Remind you of Romans 3:23?

Remember the promises of Psalm 51, a prayer of confession of King David.

Then look at 1 John 1:9. Faithful, amazing forgiveness through our Faithful Jesus!

 

3) Pray the following prayer of surrender. Even the pain and suffering is part of His plan.

“8 But now, O Lord, You are our Father;
we are the clay, and You are our potter;
and we all are the work of Your hand.
9 Do not be wrathful beyond measure, O Lord,
nor remember iniquity forever;
look upon us, we pray,
we all are Your people.” Isaiah 64: 8-9

The chronically ill and disabled, the seeming lepers of society, are still part of His handiwork and kingdom.

Though original sin in the Garden of Eden created the DNA flaws, The Master Potter knows and cares about each vessel in all our unique flaws and sin issues. ( Not saying the DNA issues are sin. They are not. How we respond to them is a matter of good or evil.)

Ask for His presence to be known to you. “LOOK upon us, we pray, we are ALL Your people.”

Anyone who comes to the Father through Jesus Christ in faith and repentance can pray this prayer.

“The Lord takes pleasure in those that fear Him, in those that hope in His mercy.” Psalm 147:11

“Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in HOPE through the power of the Holy Ghost.” Romans 15:13

While I would rather skip right over winter, maybe I would not appreciate the faith, hope, and courage God grants to my spouse and I to fight through it. 

Hope these prayers help keep you and I on track and encouraged. Pray on, dear sisters! Maybe this will be our favorite winter yet.