How to Run with Endurance

Are you exhausted from running the race marked out for you? Have your faith muscles been stretched further than you thought you could endure?

This year I learned, once again, the importance of FAITH when I had to endure a heart wrenching event. Followed by a continual avalanche of minor first-world problems that threatened to trip me.

The Hebrews Hall of Faith (Hebrews 11) show men and women who endured hardships where the physical reality—what they could see—often made no sense. And may have presented God as absent and unloving.

These people weren’t commended for who they were or what they accomplished. They were commended because they held onto their faith despite hardships.

Their faith moved them from a ‘contract faith’ which means I’ll follow God if He treats me well—to a relationship that surpasses hardships.

I learned this lesson when I was in my mid-thirties. I thought my faith was rock solid. Then I had three miscarriages in a two year span.

I accepted the first miscarriage. Life happens, right? Plus, I had two toddlers. However, grieving for my baby made me long for another one. The second miscarriage threw me in a downward spiral. Instead of praising God in the storm, I whined because my two best friends had babies. By the third miscarriage, I shook my fist at God.

“Why is this happening? Don’t you love me?”

I had a contract faith: I expected God to prove that He loved me by giving me what I wanted.

Then one night I cried out, “Lord, I trust you to give me a baby in your time. Or, fill my void with Yourself.”

I claimed Isaiah 27:13,14. “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord … Wait for the Lord; Be strong….”

Sometimes, all we can do is believe God and wait—for His guidance, His intervention, His promises.

That season of loss and—believing God—was a pivotal turning point in my faith. The Lord renewed my spirit and gave me His perfect peace. When I least expected it, He gave me a son … who was born premature, but that’s another faith lesson.

Remembering God’s faithfulness over the years enables me to run with endurance. Even in this … latest hardship.

“Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).

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Is God Any Less Maternal?

“Mommy!” 

When I heard the child holler, my eyes searched the grocery store’s produce section for that frightened voice as if he were my own child. The little guy stood, wide-eyed and flushed, next to the pumpkins. Before I could come to his aid, his mother rushed around the corner and embraced him.

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I thought about my own mom. When I was a wee child she’d come running whenever I called her name. She’d…

  • Rescue me from a yapping dog.
  • Kiss the boo boo on my scraped knee.
  • Console me at night if I was scared.
  • Smooth my warm brow when I was ill.
  • Watch me turn a cartwheel; listen to me jabber.
  • Defend me when Little Brother kicked me with his cowboy boots.

Mommy did this and more because I was her child and she loved me.

Is God the Father any less maternal toward His children?

From the time we’re born, He woos us and waits for us to recognize that we’re lost and need Him. The moment we holler, Jesus…for there is no other name under heaven whereby we can be saved…He rescues us. Adopts us into His family. Loves us with an everlasting love where nothing can snatch us from God’s hand. But our relationship doesn’t stop there.

Think of a child summoning his mother when he’s alarmed or in need. Should God’s children do anything less?

When we call on the powerful name of Jesus, we’re able to flee temptation and obey the Father’s will. He restores broken lives; strengthens us to do all things. In Jesus’ name, Satan and his demons cower and flee.

However, this same Almighty God, is tender, protective; devoted. In scripture, He compares Himself to…

  • cochin-1415260_1280A mother hen who longs to gather her chicks to care for them.
  • As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you.
  • A mama bear jealously guarding her cubs.

Assured of God’s love and Who we belong to, the Bible tells us to call the name of the Lord…often and with confidence…when we’re afraid, grieving, in pain, confused; anxious.

Why then, would I ever choose to not call the Lord’s name? Do I only cry for Jesus when I need Him?

When I consider Who Christ is and what He accomplished on the cross, that joyous, mind-blowing thought makes me want to shout God’s praises every day….

Even in this maddening world.

 

Images: Pixabay

 

Emptiness Allows Room for God

My mentor, Loretta, texted. “God has this. It’s not all on you.”

I tossed a package of decongestant pills and cough drops into my suitcase. “I hope so because I’m empty.”

I’d been ill for two weeks. My friends prayed I’d be well enough to attend the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference. My health improved in the nick of time. Whether I could endure the nonstop, four-day conference remained a mystery.

The first afternoon, I sat outside on a bench with a plate of meatballs and diced cheese. Writers, editors, and agents mingled beneath the budding trees. I scanned the smiling faces. There were people I knew. Others I wanted to meet. However, the thought of small talk exhausted me. I leaned back and stared at a tree adorned with pink blossoms.

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“Lord, I can’t do this.”

And a small voice whispered. “I got this. Go rest.”

If I’d been less empty, I might have argued. “God, I payed a lot of money to come here. I need to get the most from this conference. I have to talk to….”

An empty person doesn’t get far on their own strength. I went to my room and napped.

emptywwordsAt dinner, I went through the buffet line and searched for a place to sit. I had no agenda. My energy remained low. That’s when I saw an editor I wanted to meet. He sat at a table in the corner of the room. I asked to join him. We talked for an hour and he prayed for me.

I went to sleep that night, assured God had my back. It wasn’t all on me.

That’s how the weekend unfolded. I never plotted or panicked. I’d walk into the crowded dining room and notice an empty chair and clean placemat at one of the tables as if the Lord had reserved that one spot for me.

During coffee break, I’d turn around and find someone I wanted to meet or thank.

It’s difficult for a control freak to stay empty. However, emptiness kept me from being full of myself. Oh, that I’d be empty more often!

Emptiness allowed room for God to fill me and lead the way. I experienced…

“God’s grace that is sufficient when we’re weak.”
“The joy of the Lord is my strength” when someone prayed for my renewed energy.

Then God surprised me beyond my imagination. I met Francine Rivers.

She’s written many books including one of my favorite, Redeeming Love. Her book made a huge impact on me. And I’ve given Redeeming Love to many women especially when I served as a jail chaplain for female prisoners.

Meeting Francine Rivers blessed me. She’s a genuine lady. But the opportunity to talk with her felt like another God moment. My empty jar overflowed with love for Him. I wanted to stand on my chair and sing the Hallelujah Chorus.

Lord knows that would have emptied the room!

 

http://francinerivers.com/books/redeeming-love/

http://writers.mounthermon.org

Jar photograph: http://jennywredephotography.com

 

When Life Doesn’t Make Sense

 

I begged God to come to the rescue.

My prayers weren’t for me, but someone else who needed to know that God is real. He cares about every detail of our lives.

Please God! Show Yourself in a mighty way that will remove all doubt; strengthen faith.

I stopped praying when a wail rose deep within that person and hit the room like a Tsunami.

God didn’t step in to save the day.

So it was left to me—or so it seemed—to make My presence known and comfort a crushed spirit.

Although God’s purposes (Romans 8:28,29) are certain, I knew these words would fall on deaf ears. For even I struggled to make sense of the situation.

When the person’s pain morphed into anger…
I made excuses for God; explained why He might have allowed this “unfair thing” to happen.

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Have you ever had to defend God?

Or fortify someone’s faith instead of allowing God to do the work—how ever slowly?

“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18)

I know this to be true. Multiple miscarriages once left me flailing like a fish out of water.

My faith remained intact, but anger and bitterness enslaved me. I kept God at a distance because my unmet expectations had led to disappointment with Him.

However, that season of pain showed me that God remains faithful even when I am faithless.

The Lord also used my miscarriages to eradicate my misperceptions of His character, and the false beliefs that I was….

–Entitled to get what I want, when I want, because I’m a Christian.
–Able to manipulate God with my “good deeds.”

Years of trying to earn God’s love and approval had also led to the assumption—God doesn’t love me when bad things happen or He appears silent.

Finally, sick of my own belly aching and missing the Lord, I confessed my anger and false accusations.

I asked God for His peace and claimed Psalm 27:13,14

“I would have despaired unless I had believed I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the Lord.”

Those faith lessons came to mind as my friend clenched fists and spewed venomous words. But my own experience told me, “This wasn’t the right time.”

Besides, spoon-fed faith won’t result in spiritual maturity. Eventually, folks have to learn for themselves that…

  • God is near,
  • He’s able to save
  • He uses all things to teach and mold us

Until we come to a place we can submit to God’s sovereignty. And trust Him even in the senseless, worst of times.

 

Emergency Landing

file0002024015432I’m no stranger to commercial air travel. I’m not afraid to fly. However, I still listen when the flight attendant says, “Please give us your full attention while we review the emergency procedures.” That’s because an emergency landing once got my full attention.

It was Veteran’s Day weekend, and my husband was serving overseas in the military, preparing for Desert Storm. I decided to visit a friend in Los Angeles. Rather than drive all day, I chose to fly standby with my five-year-old son and three-year-old daughter. I thought a one-hour flight would be a piece of cake.

What could go wrong?

Flight delay

We boarded a 737 jet at the Sacramento airport with twenty-six other souls. We had barely settled into our seats when the flight officer told us we’d have to leave the plane: One of the tires needed changing. Since it was a direct flight, I didn’t mind the one-hour delay.

Back on board, I helped my children buckle their seatbelts. We sat in the middle of the plane, near the window exits, and half listened while the flight attendant explained the emergency procedures.

My children often traveled by air, but they grew wide-eyed with wonder as the plane sped down the runway and rose above the farmland’s checkerboard pattern.

Strange noise

My excitement fizzled fast. What’s that noise?

I strained my ears to identify the sound. It was a low roar, like wind rushing through an open door. I glanced around to see if anyone noticed.

My jaw dropped. A pilot strode toward us and knelt in the middle of the aisle. He peeled back a section of the carpet and looked through a hard plastic view port in the floor.

This doesn’t bode well. What is he looking for?

From my aisle seat, I could see blue sky beneath the view port. Goose bumps surfaced on my skin when I realized what little stood between me and 35,000 feet of space. Even more disturbing was the pilot’s furrowed brow and pinched lips.

Unnerving announcement

The pilot replaced the carpet and rushed back to the cockpit. Passengers who had been strangers minutes earlier now made eye contact and exchanged witticisms. Our awkward laughter stopped when a subdued voice came over the intercom.

“Folks, this is the captain speaking. I need your attention. I can’t raise the landing gear, so we’re going to divert into the San Francisco airport to fix the problem. However, we’re not sure the landing gear is all the way down. So we’ll need to prepare for an emergency landing.”

Did he say, “emergency landing”?

Quick action

Men looked up from their newspapers. Those who dozed sat up straight. My stomach sank as a female flight attendant hurried toward the rear of the airplane. Avoiding our questioning eyes, she carried a large, blue binder labeled Procedures.

Another flight attendant directed us, “Please read the emergency cards located in the seat pockets in front of you.” Her breathy, high-pitched voice belied her calm demeanor.

Careful plan

I didn’t want to alarm my children, but they needed to know how to get out of the plane. And I needed to know someone would help them evacuate if I was incapacitated. I envisioned thoughtless adults stampeding over my children to save their own necks.

I studied the man across the aisle from us; his hands shook. Not good enough. I waved at the flight attendant to come over and expressed my concerns.

She nodded and proceeded to divide the passengers into thirds. Some were seated in first class, near the front door. Others were seated in the middle of the airplane, near the window exits. The rest of us moved to the rear of the plane. I sat between my two children in the last row and was relieved to learn two muscular men had agreed to open the rear door and assist people.

Explanation

I tried to sound matter-of-fact as I explained the situation to my children. “The plane’s wheels are stuck. If they’re not all the way down, the plane will land on its belly, and it’s going to be loud and bumpy. The captain wants to keep us safe, so when he yells, ‘Brace!’ three times, put your head down near your knees. After the plane stops, go out the back door.”

I showed them the emergency card with images of people on the inflatable emergency slide. My daughter grinned and nodded as though playing a game. I couldn’t read my son’s poker face. Neither of them understood why I urged them, “Do not wait for me. You get out of the plane as fast as you can. Someone will help you.”

Silence and fear

As we approached the airport, the flight attendants took their seats. A deadly silence pervaded the cabin as though the Grim Reaper had appeared.

My shoulders felt like someone was squeezing them with their nails, but I wasn’t afraid for myself. As a Christian, I didn’t fear death. I knew “My times are in Your hand” (Psalm 31:15, NKJV) and that one day I would see Jesus face to face.

Rather, the fear surging through my veins was for my children’s welfare.Lord, please keep them safe.

Landing gear

The captain’s sharp voice cut through the cabin’s silence. “We’re going to fly by the air traffic control tower before we land. They’re going to use binoculars and try to determine if the landing gear is down. Then we’ll circle around and land. Remember to lower your heads when I yell, ‘Brace!’”

Tension in the cabin accelerated as we zoomed by the control tower. Fire trucks and ambulances stood guard on the tarmac; their flashing red lights sent shivers down my spine.

Brace!

The plane increased its altitude, and the vehicles grew smaller as we flew upward and circled back toward the long, black runway that would be our welcome mat — or not. As the plane descended, I reminded myself to breathe, but the captain’s booming voice startled me and sucked the oxygen out of my lungs.

“Brace! Brace! Brace!”

While I lowered my head, I smiled and gently pushed down my children’s heads.

“Jesus is with you,” I whispered, my voice cracking.

Jesus is with you.

Sure promise

Words spoken to reassure my children rebounded into my own heart and reminded me of God’s promise in Deuteronomy 31:8. “It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed” (NRSV).

Lord, if I believe You’re with us, then why should I be afraid for my children? You know the number of their days. If the plane crashes and it’s not their time, I can trust You to get my children safely off the plane — with or without my help. You will not forsake them. I have Your promise.

Safe

I stared at my children’s innocent faces, but they didn’t seem defenseless with Jesus at their side. My heart did a cartwheel, and fear lost its grip as I surrendered my children into the Lord’s capable hands. Without the burden to save them, I rested like a weaned child in her Father’s arms as

. . . the plane landed smoothly and rolled to a stop.

There was a collective sigh as passengers raised their heads, clapped. and cheered. Giggling, my daughter turned to me and said, “I liked landing with my head down. Do we still get to go down the slide?”

Tongue-tied, I shook my head. I was still basking in the glow of that euphoric moment when God impressed truth upon a human heart.

Relief, joy, and Jesus

I don’t know how the Lord worked in other people’s hearts that day, but the mood became celebratory. Flight attendants offered beverages to quench people’s thirst and soothe frayed nerves, while mechanics examined the landing gear. We were told the previous mechanic had left a locking pin in the landing gear after he changed the tire. That pin had kept the gear from retracting.

The flight from San Francisco to the Ontario airport was brief, uneventful. My emotions were a compilation of relief and joy: relief the plane didn’t crash, joy because I had experienced first-hand the peace of Christ during what seemed like a calamitous moment.

To this day, I believe that emergency landing was like a dress rehearsal preparing me for the real deal. One day, my time on earth will be over, and I’ll fly away. But now I know — I won’t be afraid because Jesus will be with me. He promised.

(My article appeared today in Bible Advocates’s Now What?)

http://nowwhat.cog7.org/

You Can Go Now

On the first day of school, student laughter drifts across the street like melody to my ears. And along with their glee, three grown children unknowingly pluck my heart strings from afar.

How long does it last…this forlorn desire to rewind time? Or must I remain tethered to the memory of my children the way they were?

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My mind’s eye sees them standing on our front porch. They’re dressed in new outfits, their backpacks filled with freshly-sharpened pencils, colored markers, and wide-ruled paper.

 I fumble with my camera while they moan, “Hurry up, Mom! We don’t want to be late!”

Within two weeks, I’ll have to shoo them out the door, “Hurry up, you’ll be late!”

While my voice vibrates like a helicopter…helicopter mom

“Do you have your homework?”

“Did you remember your lunch?”

“Don’t forget to hand in your permission slip.”

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Last evening, for old time’s sake, I sat at the playground and remembered my youngest child’s first day of kindergarten.

Grasping his hand, we weaved through timid children and zealous parents until we found his cubbyhole. It  was marked by a laminated sign decorated with a red apple and his name written in bold print.

Then he sat down with his classmates at one of the round tables. I squatted beside his dwarf-sized chair, hoping to provide moral support while we waited for the bell to ring.

Only, he had enough confidence for the both of us.

“You can go now.”

I did not expect my son to cling to my skirts like crazy glue. After all, he had older siblings on campus and was eager to join their ranks.

And yet, his matter-of-fact tone threw me off guard.

I left the room like a Butler dismissed from service.

Lord, why is it so hard to let go?

 

Thirteen years later, I’m still learning to let go.

Recently, we flew across the nation and left our son at college.

I postponed my torrent of tears by remaining agenda-oriented. However, Sunday morning ushered in the dread of saying goodbye.

Sitting at church, between my husband and son, I pressed that moment into my heart like rose petals in a book.

 Thank you, Lord, for my family. Thank you for Your goodness.

Other moments, including my son’s first day of kindergarten, flooded my memory bank. Only this time, it was the Lord who said,

“Karen, YOU CAN GO NOW!”

I blinked back tears while God spoke as though He were talking in my ear. “Are you willing to trust Me with your child?

My head nodded though my heart balked until I remembered,

The Lord loves my children more than I do.

And if that’s true, I can let go and go now because God will never leave nor forsake them….even in this circumstance.

 “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)

Are You Still There?

Words poured from the woman’s heart like a broken water main. I waited for her to catch her breath so I could interject my thoughts over the phone.

Finally, a pregnant pause followed by her whimper. “Are you still there?”

“I’m here,” I assured her. “I’m just listening.”

Lately, I feel like that woman. I’m venting to the Lord, but He’s not saying anything. Lord, are you still there?

I imagine the Lord would speak more often if I’d be still and listen. And yet, there are times when I hold my tongue.

Desperate for wisdom or direction, I wait for the Holy Spirit to speak to me through scripture. Or I long for the joy and satisfaction of His fellowship.

Only, sometimes God appears silent.

The longer He’s silent, the more I feel estranged from the One I’ve come to love and depend upon.

I plead like David, “Don’t toss me aside, banished forever from your presence. Don’t take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me again the joy of your salvation….” (Psalm 51:11-12)

More silence.

So I remind myself to believe God and trust He is with me even in the deafening silence.

“Faith is especially required in times of silence as we wait for the intimacy of God.”

That’s what my mentor and friend, Loretta, told me years ago when she felt “God was silent and in the wings.”

Which is why Ephesians 6:13 tells us to “use every piece of God’s armor to resist the enemy whenever he attacks….But to do this, you will need the—

ü  Strong belt of truth

ü  Breastplate of righteousness

ü  Shoes able to speed you on as you preach the Gospel.

ü  Shield of Faith to extinguish the flaming arrows of the evil one.

ü  Helmet of salvation

ü  Sword of the Spirit—which is the Word of God.

Putting on the armor of God is a daily task like brushing our teeth because the enemy doesn’t retreat. He knows my Achilles heel, the weakest spot to attack my faith.

When God appears silent or like He’s “watching from a distance,” Satan shoots flaming arrows aimed at my limited understanding to make me doubt—

God’s love. God’s mercy. God’s presence.

The SHIELD OF FAITH is my best defense.

Faith STOPS the fiery arrows from hitting their mark because “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)

Faith enables me to believe God is present even when He Appears Silent.

Just now, my cell phone rings, interrupting the silence as I finish this blog. The voice coming through the receiver is a sister in Christ who lives in South Dakota. We haven’t spoken with each other in a year.

My skin tingles. This is a Divine Appointment. God’s perfect timing.

He knows I need a word of encouragement, so He sends a friend I’m least expecting to talk with me.

And while we’re on the phone, the Lord enters our midst and makes Himself known.

Faith extinguishes the doubts as we pray to the Glorious One who always listens—even when He appears silent. 

How do you respond when God appears silent?