Seeing Through the Obstacles

A lake retreat brings God’s lessons.

The house was beautiful. Decorated like those in a magazine with the latest touches from the Pinterest boards. Plenty of bedrooms, windows overlooking the lake, and a dock perfect for jumping off of into the refreshing waters. But my favorite part was the huge deck that stretched the length of the back of the house. And being a writer, my favorite place on that deck was at the charming wrought iron bistro table with my back to the windows, my Apple in front of me, and a panoramic view of the deep green waters. There, each day, I spread out God’s word and my journal and leisurely visited with my Abba.

Almost immediately there was a fly in my ointment so to speak. (But even those flies carry lessons!)

My table, appropriately located in a cozy nook beside the door and just outside the kitchen window, had one drawback. A large red oak had, years ago as a little acorn, made his home about 8 feet from me, directly in front of my favorite chair looking off the deck toward the lake. Now he was a big old boy, probably 2 feet in diameter, that blocked a large chunk of my lake view. With the door and porch railing hemming me in, there was really no place to move the table that would make a big difference. Adirondack chairs had their place on the other side of the door, so it was my opportunity to enjoy the blessing in spite of an imperfection.

As I sat watching my kids jumping off the pier that second afternoon, leaning this way and that to see them well around the tree as they floated off on tubes this way, or kayaked around that way, enlightenment came. God did what He so often does with me, He made a lesson out of the mundane and the annoying.

As I stood up and moved toward the railing to call to them for some reason, I realized a truth: the closer I was to that obstacle (the tree) the more of my view it blocked. And the antithesis of that: the further I drew away from the obstacle, the more clear my view was of the reality around me.

My spirit stirred. I suddenly was aware of the spiritual ramifications of this lesson from the physical world. We humans frequently have obstacles come into our lives. Whether it is the relatively minor getting a head cold the day you have a big presentation at work, a larger obstacle like having your taxes audited, or a really huge life issue such as a serious illness or tragedy. We tend to see these obstacles as material, physical world problems, but they greatly impact our spiritual walk.

As we face the larger obstacles, we become just like I was with my tree. We are consumed with the big thing in front of us, and not with the rest of God’s plan being carried out beyond that. We can sit in a ladies Bible study, so inwardly focused that we miss tuning in to God’s great plan going on around us. We can stay cooped up in our homes staring at that “tree” of grief in front of us and not be aware of the beauty of the “lake” just beyond us. We may verbally gripe so much about our current obstacle tree, that the only words that escape our lips are negative, bitter, sour words of disappointment and fear. And we may even hide behind our obstacle tree, because we are so used to that ongoing obstacle in our lives, it becomes easier just to live hidden behind it than to make the effort to reach out to the world beyond, despite our obstacle.

So what’s a girl to do? We all have problems.

First, get some distance on that tree whenever possible. When you are staring down that problem a foot away from you every day, it looms huge in your line of vision blocking the majority of what you see. Granted, we have huge obstacles crop up, but we don’t have to give them the central place in our lives and cozy up to them. Just as when I stepped back on the porch I could see more of the lake, when we step back from those obstructions we see more of the world beyond our difficult situation. A rebellious teen in the house? Accept the husband’s offer of a get-away. Finished that chemo and waiting on results of scans? A family celebration or second honeymoon trip might be a good choice. Your best friend is in financial crisis? Offer them your home free for the weekend for a romantic vacation while you are on that road trip to visit the in-laws. Find creative ways to give yourself (or others) a bit of distance from those besetting hindrances and the perspective and refreshment that come with distance.

Second, look beyond. God is carrying out a good plan all around us. If you can’t pull away for a while from troubling issues to get some perspective, then refocus your outlook, and start looking at the part of that view beyond that tree that you can see. The world is carrying on around you, and God has a role for you in that world as long as you are breathing – problems or not! Invest your life in God’s plans beyond your problem. When we invest in others, both are blessed.

Third, examine that tree. It’s just a tree. One with dead leaves and bark and ants crawling on it. It may be a 100 foot tall, 2 feet in diameter tree, but it’s still just a tree, a created thing. It’s just an obstacle. Nothing is impossible with God. Because of fear maybe, have we mentally made that obstacle more mighty than the Creator? He is still in control. He is not surprised by that tree being there; He saw that little acorn fall there and plant itself before we ever had an inkling we’d even be in the same neighborhood as that tree, maybe even before we were born. The good news: He has the axe necessary to get rid of that tree!

Fourth, move to one side. Look at your tree from a different angle. Could your parent’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s be a blessing to draw you two to spend time together in their later years? Could your broken heart over that rebellious teen prepare you to minister to other broken hearts you encounter along the way? Could that car wreck bring a hidden blessing? Could this trial be drawing you back to prayer? Obstacles, in some way, have God’s hidden blessing and glory tucked behind them. He is active in your life. So get a different perspective on that tree and see what good God may be bringing along with it.

Fifth, pray in faith for God to chop it down. There’s never harm in asking God to remove obstacles from our lives. Jesus did that the night before He was crucified; ” ‘Abba, Father,’ he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:36 NIV) That last statement gets us! Are we willing to live with that obstacle always there if God chooses NOT to remove it? He’s got a good plan for us. And He’s got the axe… remember?

IMG_5875And last, see the good in that tree. Count your blessings. My tree has a cheerful little squirrel who chatted with me every day of my vacation and a gorgeous green canopy that shaded me from the heat of the afternoon sun. It’s massive presence reminded me of the strength and stability of the Father, and it’s leaves offered pleasant whispers in the breeze. Your obstacle has hidden blessings too. Maybe it restores a broken relationship, brings a new friend into your life, humbles you, makes you sit still and enjoy the moments more, changes the direction of your child’s life, or causes you to listen and understand new life lessons. God is using it in your life.

So let us not grow so focused on the negative. Yes, bad things happen, but like a diamond, they are many faceted, and may have hidden treasures bound up with them. Are we embracing the spiritual lessons that come our way through the pain? Are we consumed with the Father, or are we consumed with the fear, dread, confusion, doubts, and what ifs of this obstacle? Are we angry or tender-hearted? Let us look with spiritual eyes to really see – to look beyond that obstacle!

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

Back to Basics: Authentic Community

Hello, my name is Gina and I…

Lately the ladies in our office have been discussing sharing and how important it is to share your life with others. Not just what you did over the weekend or the latest thing your child did, but real, authentic sharing. Sharing of struggles and hurts and dreams that did not come true. It’s easy to share our wins with others but why is it hard to share our struggles? Why is it that we always want to put on a front and not be real with the community that God has put around us?

Ladies, there is someone out there who has struggled with infertility, who has lost a job, whose filed for bankruptcy, whose husband has left them, whose child is away from God, whose loved one has an addiction to drugs, pain killers, pornography, or alcohol, who has suffered a miscarriage, who is battling depression or another mental illness, who has a child with special needs, who has post-partum depression, who is struggling with having an empty nest home, whose spouse has cheated on them, who is caring for an aging parent, who has been physically or mentally abused, who has an eating disorder, who has had an abortion or an unplanned pregnancy, who is struggling with being single, who is lonely, who is grieving the death of a child, who is in an unhappy marriage – the list could go on and on. We all have stories to tell.

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Our Father doesn’t want us to keep these hurts and struggles bottled up inside and hidden from the world – I believe He wants us to share so we can help others and bring Him glory. Your struggle is part of your story, your testimony and your journey with Him. You never know what someone else has walked through but how are we to know who that person is unless you share? Romans 12:15 says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice [sharing others’ joy], and weep with those who weep [sharing others’ grief]” (emphasis mine).

Since this topic first came up in my life it has come up in many conversations the past few weeks and I have seen people talking about it on social media. I keep going back to work and saying – “guess what I talked about with so and so today – sharing”! I believe that the Lord can really heal our hearts and bond us together through this.

We need to embrace the community that God has placed in our life. This community is there to lift you up and pray for you when you are struggling and having a hard time. Community is there to call you out (in love of course), community is there to make sure you are not alone – Satan wants nothing more than to isolate you and make you think you are the only one. You do not have to be overwhelmed alone! There is wholeness and transformation when we share our stories with each other. Galatians 6:2: Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

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Pastor Pete Scazzero says, “The church is hopefully the place where people can come and it’s safe. We want to be in a place where we admit we are broken, we are vulnerable and we are authentic. If we really believe in grace, we can come out of hiding and hopefully be something that will make the world a little thirsty for Christ. Without transparency I’m not sure we have much to offer the world.”

Ladies, we need each other and it is so important to never stop sharing the stories…your story…my story…so let’s not stop. Keep sharing, keep loving, keep encouraging and keep talking to people around you.
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I’ll start it – Hello, my name is Gina and in January I had a miscarriage. What’s your story?

Grief at the Holidays

I feel like the worst daughter ever! I cry when I remember.

I was not present for my mother’s last Christmas day here on earth. There. I said it. Judge me harshly. Go ahead. I have judged myself over and over in despair and nothing can change it or bring it back.

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It’s been 2 years now.

After a very hard year and a half of walking through increasingly horrible Parkinson’s dementia with Mom, my husband and kids encouraged me to take a trip to Texas to visit his sister’s family that would have us away from home on Christmas day. With work schedules what they were, that was the only time we could visit them.

At first I resisted vehemently. No! How could I leave my mother?! She needs me. I kept thinking, What if this is her last Christmas?

But after a trip to the neurologist and a change in meds Mom started getting back to her normal self. Hope returned. She seemed to be getting better for a few weeks. During this lucid phase, I mentioned talk of a trip to her and she said, “Yes. Go. We can celebrate before you leave.” And when I talked to my brother and family about it, they readily agreed to have her with them that day. So I made the choice. Somewhat reluctantly I began to prepare for the big trip to Dallas.img_2524

The Saturday before Christmas we got together with Mom for our Christmas celebration. Dinner, presents, laughs. It was nice. She was doing well. She was pretty much herself that night. Spirits were good. The trip was on. The next day my dear husband, the kids and I pulled out early for the 10 hour trip. It was great weather and I felt relieved to be free from the constraints of the past several months. A change of scenery would do me good.

It had been a grueling time of almost weekly medical appointments, sometimes several times a week. Mom’s decline had been coming more rapidly. I had been making from one to several trips a day to be with her, to coax her to eat and try to make her take her medicine. Many times I ended up spending the night or several nights in her apartment at her assisted living to try to console her. My year had been consumed by little things like forgetfulness, incontinence, and struggles for her to maintain balance and feed herself; big things like the falling which resulted in several late night calls, and trips to the emergency room; and really huge, tragic things like a stay in the geriatric psychiatric ward of the hospital, her fearful hallucinations of fire and flood and murder and abduction, her paranoia that the people who cared for her were out to get her, and the constant delusions that nothing I said, no rational argument, could convince her not to fret over. Tears and the Lord were my two constant companions.

But now I was leaving all that behind for a bit. As each mile rolled by on our trip, my spirit lightened. I called Mom several times and she sounded normal, not confused at all. Thank you, Lord! We had a restful, joyful, family centered few days of Christmas celebrations with my sister-in-law’s family. My brother called on Christmas day and I got to talk to Mom who was still doing great. We made it home with no catastrophes and all my worries were put to rest! I felt rejuvenated.

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Sadly, Mom’s short Christmas turn around didn’t last much past the new year and the old symptoms grew worse again. Medicine changes seemed to help for shorter and shorter periods as her condition progressed. Her decline was on a downhill slope picking up speed, and a week after we enjoyed her last Mother’s Day together, she passed away.

I never thought grief would so consume me. I had a strong relationship with the Lord. I believed that life and death were in His hands. I was very practical. But all that was before my mother died. The one person who had always known me was no longer there. Suddenly I was an orphan. My own mortality was staring me in the face. It was a very hard year. Summer and fall came and went. Then the holidays hit! I felt blind-sided. All I could do was cry. Every conversation with my girls ended in tears. I couldn’t make myself get out of the house or do anything. I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t think straight, and I hurt all over. Was this grief?! I never realized!

That was only last year.

What a difference a year makes! This year hope has returned to this sad heart. So may I encourage your grieving heart? Looking back here are some things that helped, although at the time I didn’t want to do them and didn’t think they would help.

Read a book on the stages of grief or you may think you’re going crazy! Somewhere in the aftermath of Mom’s death I acquired a little book called Good Grief. I refused to read it for the longest. When I finally broke down and read it months later I was shocked how accurate it was. I was thinking I was going crazy and dying. Seriously. When I read in that little book that physical pain is one of the things a person experienced in grief, I was shocked and relieved. There were many other things that helped me realize what I was going through was normal.

eea0a691-e91d-41e5-a630-44814fad0bfdKeep practicing the spiritual habits you have established in your life as much as possible. Go to church. Read your Bible. Pray, even when you feel you can’t put coherent thoughts into words. God seemed far away some days, but I’ve since realized that He wasn’t. He was just hidden from my view by a thick gray veil of grief. I did miss church more during that first year after Mom’s death, but loving family members pushed me to go if I missed more than 1 week at a time and I relented and went, because I knew it was just because they cared.

Carry on holiday traditions that you did with that family member in the past. You’ll cry and it will hurt, but it will be bittersweet. It will be healing to your heart. I made Mom’s specialties for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners that year. I could hardly eat them, but they were there. And with them it seemed like a little part of her was in our celebrations. Cooking was her thing.VLUU L200  / Samsung L200

Talk about your lost loved one. That hurts too, but it helps. We sat around and told “remember when” stories. We drug out the Memory Jar I had given Mom 15 years earlier that was full of little cards with old memories written on them, and we read and cried and laughed and felt comfort in reliving the joys of Mom’s life.

img_1335Look for joy (even in the little things). I was so grateful for a dear old highschool friend who sent me a Christmas card specially written to acknowledge this first Christmas without Mom! What a huge thing that was. What joy (through tears of course) it brought. But there were many tiny things that brought joy that I chose not to let slip past. Listening to Christmas carols and watching the twinkling lights of my tree. Playing a board game with the family. Allowing myself to laugh at things that would have amused my mom. Seeing my grandson’s eyes lighting up at the sight of the Christmas tree.

Put up a tree for Christmas! It was a burden. I just wanted to skip it that year. It only got half the ornaments it normally does. But it brought light and joy and peace to dark nights. I was glad I did.

img_2608Hug the people dearest to you, snuggle and share tender moments just because you still have them. The gift that the death of a loved one brings with it is a heightened awareness of making the most of the time you have with others who are still living. Don’t squander those times even if some relationships are difficult or awkward. You will never regret reaching out and expressing yourself. Trying to, even in a tough relationship, keeps the regrets of “if only” and “why didn’t I” away.

I hope you have a blessed Christmas and experience the hope of Christ in the midst of your grief. Here’s a sweet song that an old friend posted on social media recently. It is comforting for those of us who are spending Christmas without someone dear to us.

Enjoy the music! Different Kind of Christmas