25 Benefits of Trials

It’s easy to grow fearful in times of uncertainty. It’s easy to lose hope as we suffer through lengthy hardships. Events such as the COVID-19 pandemic remind us how fragile our lives really are.

Like any trial, we often cannot see an end in sight and this one is no exception. When we are staying at home, social-distancing, viewing reports of daily escalating numbers, suffering through mandatory business closures and potential loss of livelihood, we worry we won’t manage.

My mum used to say of trials, “This too shall pass.” And it will. When it does, things won’t be the same. We will have a new framework out of which to operate. I imagine we will have a more thankful mindset, a greater appreciation for others as we joyfully reconnect and fully embrace our renewed freedom. Trials arrive unexpectedly and loom large, but we can move through them with grace, peace, and even joy.

Monty at the cottage
Cuddling my grandson – one of the ways I’m savoring this slowed pace.

Continue reading “25 Benefits of Trials”

What a Difference a Week Can Make

It’s staggering how much change can occur in one week.

Just over a week ago we were still meeting in-person—albeit cautiously. We stared incredulously at the empty grocery store shelves formerly housing untold brands of toilet paper, antiseptic wipes, and fresh meat. We began to pay closer attention to what the COVID-19 pandemic was going to mean for Canada.

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Grocery store shelves void of all toilet paper.

Conversely, this week, when it should have been non-stop hangouts with friends due to March Break, we were diligently social-distancing. Our extroverted nineteen-year-old daughter, Elanna, came home from Toronto to hunker down at our place. Our equally extroverted 11-year-old, Keira, couldn’t fathom why I was mandating a no playdate policy. In an extraordinary act of self-control, I kept myself away from our two-month-old grandson the entire week. Continue reading “What a Difference a Week Can Make”

Trials

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Released November 12th, 2019!

We all endure trials. Some so intense, lengthy, or heartwrenching we fear we won’t make it out alive. We cannot live very long without facing hardship, such is the nature of life on earth. 

This past week, my new devotional, Soul Focus, on the theme of trials was released. It’s close to my heart because this book was birthed out of my own period of pain, and is the fruit of over ten years of devotional writing, blogging, and prayer journaling.

It’s an offering of comfort whether you find yourself in the midst of a trial or are facing the mourning process that comes after. Inside, I offer personal examples as a reminder that you’re not alone.

It was written with the intention to kindle hope during times when it seems your prayers are unanswered, when you wonder if God has stopped listening to you, or when you fear he has forgotten you. I have included journaling pages throughout for personal reflections as you journey through this month of daily encouragements.

Tonight, I’m hosting an event at my church for Soul Focus entitled, An Evening of Hopeful Stories. Three others and I—in an act of vulnerability and sacred solidarity—will share our stories of struggle. I’m hopeful that all who come will feel greatly encouraged and leave with renewed hope. 

If you’re nearby, the doors are open! If far, I hope you will be reminded that God hasn’t left you to navigate this trial alone. He is with you. He has never left you. 

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6

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An Evening of Hopeful Stories:
November 18th at 6:45PM, Knox Galt, 2 Grand Ave S, Cambridge, ON

Nose Tears

crying picRecently, my 10-year-old told me something enlightening. She said she learned in school that when you cry and your nose runs, it’s actually tears coming out of your nostrils. Nose tears? I was astounded. How could I have lived for forty-eight years and never heard of this phenomenon? This led me to think about all the other times my nose runs besides when I cry or have a cold.

For instance, my nose often runs when I’m enjoying hot food, particularly soup. I’m rather partial to soup. Does this mean I’m crying tears of joy while sipping? I experience a runny nose when outside in the cold. I rather dislike the cold. Perhaps I’m crying tears of pain that I must endure Canadian winters. And when I go for a run, my nose runs along with me. Are these tears of elation since running has always been a passion of mine, or my body secretly shedding tears of compassion for the endurance needed to complete the rigorous exercise?

Apparently there are different types of tears. My daughter informed me there are psychic tears (happiness or sadness), basal tears to keep the eyes lubricated, and reflex tears as a response to things like onions or tear gas. I looked it up and learned that the various types also look different under a microscope (see image below). How cool is that?

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The Topography of Tears ~Rose-Lynn Fisher

It’s amazing to me that God created us to release different types of tears, but also an outpouring of them when we experience strong emotions. Physic tears contain a natural painkiller, called leucine enkephalin, that also acts to improve mood. Apparently, when we shed tears, built-up chemicals are released from the body. I suppose the release of these endorphins and chemicals explain why we feel better after a good cry.

I have always loved this verse:

You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book. ~ Psalm 56:8

The idea that God keeps track of my pain and sadness, and even records them, is a marvelous comfort to me. But that he collects my tears and that they are precious to him brings tears of joy and wonder itself. It shows that our suffering matters to him—intimately. Not one tear or trial are forgotten by him. He hears every pain-riddled prayer and sees every soul-searing sorrow we experience.

I envision arriving in heaven and God holding up my tear jar. I imagine him sitting next to me flipping through the pages of my book of sorrows. I picture him showing me how all the pain and hardship I experienced on earth fit together. I’ll be in awe of how all the trials had a purpose even though I couldn’t understand while in the midst of them. I’ll be amazed at the way his mercy met me at every turn, how his love anchored me, and how his arms carried me through it all; nothing unnoticed by his loving gaze. I’ll gape at how God used it all and somehow managed to turn it into pure gold.

If tears have been your steady companion as of late, and trials pour in like the spring rains, take heart. He will not leave you or forsake you. (Deuteronomy 31:6) You are not abandoned or forgotten. He collects those tears and records your sorrows. He sees it all.

Before Jesus was led to the cross, he warned his disciples about some of the trials to come saying, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) This life will not be without trials, we aren’t in heaven yet, but we have God’s spirit to help, guide, and comfort us.

His love is tender and true, and he hasn’t forgotten you!

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  1. Sometimes in trials we are tempted to think God doesn’t care or has forgotten us.
  2. How does it make you feel to know God collects your tears and records every bit of your sorrows?
  3. His love is unlimited and unconditional. Cling to him even in this trial.

If you enjoyed this devo, look for Soul Focus – 30-Day Devotional & Journal (coming Fall 2019), a collection of daily encouragements for overcoming life’s trials. Click here to learn more: Books  

 

 

Unfinished Works & Masterpieces

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A couple of weeks ago, I nearly finished a painting. I had challenged myself to begin an abstract piece without a sketch. I’ve never done that before, and it took giving up control and allowing it to go where it would. The only structure I put in place was a straight line drawn horizontally across the oversized canvas.

Like most art, it’s nearly impossible to say when it’s complete. The incomplete canvas leaned lonely against our kitchen table for several days while I reviewed the edits for my novel. Then we left for a week away. Upon returning, my husband promptly hung my almost finished piece on the living room wall to await its final touches. He and the kids said it looked complete already. All I could see stretched out before me were the other areas and hours I planned on tweaking it.

Aren’t we a bit like that painting?

We exist as unfinished masterpieces.

When others look at us, we look pretty good, maybe even complete. But our creator knows there’s more to be done. He’s the only one who can truly see when the work is finished. Because he loves us, he won’t lean us against a table, forget about us, or let go, until we are fully a masterpiece.

During the painting process, we look for a sketch to follow, but must instead keep striking out in faith. This takes trust and courage, especially when we feel unsure of our direction, completely lost, lonely, or are hurting. In such times, we think if we only had a sketch—some step-by-step plan—to guide us, then the canvas of our lives would turn out just right. But we aren’t the artist.

As I painted, I experimented with solid body paint, applying it thick to create texture. I waited for it to begin to dry and harden, then smeared it when it was just the right consistency creating a flattened texture. I loved the result and began to do likewise with the bottom half of the painting. Before it reached the perfect stage, I had to rush out. No worries, I told myself, it will give the paint time to dry, and when I return I’ll do the technique. Alas, I came home later than expected, and it was too dry to manipulate. Though I pressed and scraped, the paint would barely move. The rough texture looked completely different.

Interestingly enough, without my saying a word, everyone who looks at the painting likes those parts the best—the mistake. They think it’s bold and has the most character.

The same is true with our lives; beauty is forged from accidents and mistakes. Character is hewn out of hardship. When it seems circumstances can’t be budged or smoothed, and there’s no sketch to follow, the creator is fashioning our lives—and us—into a work of great beauty despite our mistakes and meddling.

Sometimes, we think our lives might be impossibly messed up, but God’s grace and love creates beauty from ashes. Our blunders and flaws, and various rough patches inflicted upon us, aren’t a surprise to him. If we let him, God even fashions them to form within us strength, boldness, and remarkable beauty. When he looks at us, he can already picture the finished piece.

Until then, we are unfinished works in progress awaiting the day we become masterpieces.

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,
 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
     and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.

~ Isaiah 61:1-3

 

Finding Thankfulness

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I’m thankful for my hubby.

Confession: Fall isn’t my favourite time of year. I much prefer hot, hazy mid-summer days. I adore my garden at peak performance showing off its full glory. I relish a few lazy minutes of reading on the porch with the birds’ chorus adding to the unfolding beauty. There’s the endless, sunspun blue skies, and the warm evenings begging us to linger outside and squeeze the most out of the long days of light. Even as I write this, I’m still mourning summer’s end. 

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I’m thankful for my garden.

But its fall and, in Canada, that means a few changes. And with the changing season come a few things I could stand to be grateful for. Things like: apple cider, the smell of smoke sauntering out of hundred-year-old chimneys, the blazing leaves letting go, comical gourds, pumpkin pies, fall Mums, and cosy sweaters. Maybe you could add a few of your own.

My daughter adores this time of year and makes a fall list – traditions that she keeps each year. Among other activities, she decorates her room, visits the pumpkin patch with a friend, then painstakingly carves the perfect pumpkin once home. She makes procuring a pumpkin spice latte a must, makes a fall play list, and even dresses up for Halloween to hand out candy at our door. Through her, I’m trying to increase my affection for fall.

But no matter where we find ourselves this autumn, no matter how much you cherish the changing seasons, how amazing, or not-quite-so-amazing, your circumstances may be, the truth is we can always find something to be thankful for. Thanksgiving is an ideal reminder that we really should be living each day thankful, not just one weekend.

Here are some things I’m thankful for: a simple breath of outside air, the late-day sun on my face, a flock of migrating birds crossing overhead, a sip of warm coffee, the bite of food in my mouth before thinking of the next, and a moment of stillness in my home (like this one when no one is making a sound). I’m thankful for my dear friends who love and cheer me on, my children who encourage me to do big things, and my husband who still loves me after 26 years of intimately knowing my every fault. And I’m thankful that God, who knows me even better than that, gave His Son because He thinks I matter.

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I’m thankful for my kids.

This act of being thankful has a way of brushing the cobwebs of ingratitude away. Like the way we gripe in our childish entitlement, or the way we have mini-fits when the world doesn’t give us all we asked for. Thankfulness acts as an automatic attitude-shifter, and the everyday, moment-by-moment practice of it helps us approach our minutes with a healthier, life-giving focus.

There are times so bewilderingly dark, so emotionally or physically painful, that it seems virtually impossible to find a single thing to be thankful for. But even when the light is scant, look hard. There is always a small ray of hope shining in that darkness and lighting something of which to be thankful for – even if it is that next breath.

And, like anything, the more we practice thankfulness, the easier it becomes. What if this weekend we start, and then just keep going – this month and this year – and develop a solid habit of finding something to be thankful for each day, and especially in times of difficulty? I have an inkling we might experience an increased dose of contentment, peace, and joy.

     “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”                      1 Thessalonians 5:18

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  1. Have you made a “Thankful List”?
  2. Develop the practice of finding things to be thankful for each day and even each moment.

Moving Mountains: or how I was literally brought to my knees.

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Ten years ago I could barely walk, sleep, or carry my own purse. I could no longer drive. That’s how intense the pain had become. I’d been a runner for 28 years. My motto was, “Why walk when you can run.” Now I had no choice. It was nearing two years, and over ten health care providers, but no one could help me. On top of it, I became pregnant and couldn’t take enough medication to dull the pain. It seemed I was trapped in a hopeless situation. Continue reading “Moving Mountains: or how I was literally brought to my knees.”