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Joy in the Hard Things

Joy in the Hard Things

hard things

It’s been a tumultuous couple of weeks.

A lot has gone on in the country that has raised the temperature for all the right reasons. Because of the events in Minneapolis between some police and an individual who did not deserve the treatment he received and certainly not death– with people looking on, unmoved–It was sickening. And because that event built upon another recent murder of a jogger, we have had a series of conversations at our house with our teen boys that a parent should never have to have. These are hard things.

These difficult issues are ones that need a spiritual remedy. I do not propose solutions here, but I am living as part of it as we are raising a generation from three different continents and three different races all living in harmony under the same roof. Gospel living is the call to difficult roles and harrowing feats. It requires Christians to hear what God would have us do in the impossible nature of it and respond by acting upon it.

We are not those who shrink back and are destroyed— but of those who have faith and preserve their souls (Hebrews 10:39).

I was just dialoguing this week with a dear friend who is doing just this. She was catching me up on some difficulties they have been experiencing. These were serious life-shattering, family-destroying stressors they invited in by God’s design. And she said it just about liked to destroy her and that she didn’t know if they were going to make it through. Then she asked how I got through times like those.

Her question was priceless because she didn’t ask if I had experienced the darkness, wanted to know how I had come through to the other side of it. She knows there is joy in the hard things. It’s just difficult to find sometimes.

Because my social media feeds are blowing up with all sorts of negativity, with questions without solutions that all point back to Gospel issues, I believe now is a good time to focus on five steps for finding joy in the hard things.

Step #1: Recognize We are Called to Some Things that are Just Hard

Some things are just hard. It’s not going away. You may continue to hurt. The relationship may stay rocky. The brokenness might remain. The blind may not see. My daughter who has all sorts of deficiencies will have all of her difficulties until heaven. It doesn’t mean we give up, but a recognition that HARD is part of the deal for Gospel purposes greater than ourselves. James 1:1 – tells us to

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Yesterday was supposed to be Graduation Day for our special need’s daughter. It was scheduled, then rescheduled for July. The district then moved it back to last night where it was rained out. We sat in the parking lot for an hour in a storm.

I honestly can’t believe we are here, awaiting her graduation. To think of where we have come from to this point with her is truly a work of God. We picked up a scrawny little 40 lb nine-year-old girl who had never been to school with poor language skills in the backwoods of China wit had all sorts of weird issues we learned daily and no mental retrieval system. For instance, you learn apple is different from rock,  or fork from a spoon. Your brain automatically begins to file these things in categories. It became apparent over those first weeks and months she was not learning anything. Nothing. No language, not how to put on her clothes, or how to choose fork over spoon. It was bizarre. But I had just finished a Ph.D. with a bazillion hours in learning theory. After trying all sorts of whatnot, I finally came in and told my husband that I didn’t think her brain knew how to file. And that changed everything.

Needed Change

Over the years God has defied all current research and has taught us what to do with her. Often our friends and family could not understand. It didn’t sound rational, believable, or make sense. So, I learned to keep silent. However, this particular situation of mine is not unique. Any time you choose to do hard things it can become a lonely journey that is absent of joy.

I think one of the most therapeutic pieces of Scripture for me became Paul saying to Timothy –

At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! 2 Timothy 4:16

Knowing that there are times in the journey we will experience loneliness; when those we feel should have been there, are not–when there is no one else who gets it–maturity in the hard places says, “It’s okay.  Let it not be counted against them.

But this reality is not without hope because Paul doesn’t end there. It doesn’t end joylessly. Even in a season when people cannot be there, you will not be alone. There is hope. That is the assurance here:

But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it.

God has always been there just like this. And He will be there for you. The Lord will stand by you and strengthen you. There could be a time when you are alone, but the Lord will be with you. Over and over, example after example, we find this to be true across the whole Word of God. But I pray God will grant you physical encouragement of some sort. Step two not to Go it Alone.

Step #2 in finding Joy in the Hard Things: Don’t Go it Alone

I always encourage people to find someone at least ten years ahead of them, preferably that you can meet physically. Maybe if not ahead of you in years,  experience. Pick their brains. Make sure that are Godly, albeit imperfect Jesus pursing,  hard thing doers with some tire marks on them. This is not the moment to look at a peer unless they have been doing what you know you need for at least five or more years. This is a Strange-ism. And I’m not a counselor. It’s just my uneducated, personal opinion for what has worked well for us.

Maybe you can’t find that person physically. There may be a season where there isn’t anyone. The world is in your hands, literally. Ask God to show you what to do and who to trust with your life. He knows what you need and will lead you to whom you need to entrust yourself.

Step #3 in finding Joy in the Hard Things: Find Strength in God

Every single day. Right now you may be in a dark place. You might be tired. There might not be any laughter or joy to speak of. We spent through some of the darkest years of our lives living out God’s call in this particular hard space, and so did our kids at the time. But daily this is how I find joy.

Every day I take myself to a quiet place, lay all of my junk, my requests, my thoughts, and my thank you’s (because there are always things to be thankful for) before Him. I have Scriptures written out for my own words fail me often. These I pray. Afterward, I read the Bible. Every single day.

It sounds like it’s not going to make a difference. Nonetheless, this is where my strength is found. It’s like throwing mud at a chain-linked fence. Every day a little bit more sticks. It’s not automatic transformation but little by little, eventual effectual change.

Step #4 in finding Joy in the Hard Things: Read Dead People

Over and over, year after year, day after day crisis upon crisis God has met me on a page through the life well lived. It’s one thing to write a book, hold a position, have a platform that is commanding and influential where people look to you for biblical counsel, wisdom, and direction in your lifetime. But how often have we witnessed the fallen–those you never would have expected–suddenly in the headlines for scandalous si? It’s tragic and true.

Not so with the dead. This is not the plight of people who lived imperfectly but served God faithfully and finished well. That’s what I’m talking about. Those are the ones to read and learn from and be encouraged by. Plus, there are so many testimonies to be discovered–lessons still relevant today from three hundred years ago. So get yourself in a book. Be encouraged. Find your joy in comradery with those lining the walkways of Heaven cheering for until your entry. Leading you in what we will address in Step Five.

Step #5 in finding Joy in the Hard Things: Let Agape Win

The celebrating season has been weird for me. But if I were honest I haven’t been in a celebratory mood. It’s been a difficult year with this graduating one. In fact, my mother and I were talking recently when she asked me what they should gift the graduation girl. My reply was that they should purchase nothing. “Today,” I said, “she gets nothing.” It has been the same painful cycle over and over. The same circular conversations again and again that no one else encounters outside of our home– outside of these relationships. It’s just the nature of the beast of the disorders she possesses.

The illustration may be somewhat non-traditional, it’s fairly accurate. She’s like the cute pet that crawls into your lap purring all the while when she suddenly and severely bites you to the bone without cause. Then licks her paws, acting like it wasn’t her. To the point, it’s hard to let that kind of person get near you, especially in your lap, because that sort of biting draws blood. Add the smile, pulls out my irritation, and when the denial comes- pure anger erupts. And we all know it’s never going to change. And there is no solution.

This year I’m tired of getting bit. No one else gets bit but us.

My mom righty replied with, “Okay, we’ll talk about it later.” She can have that response because she knows. She knows we are, indeed, going to celebrate, and celebrate big. Joy will overcome. Agape will win.

Agape is this love for another that is not dependent upon a feeling. It doesn’t matter if you just got bit for the 455th time. It’s that love of best interest.

It’s the love God showed us when he sent his son to die for us:

but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

It’s also the kind of love God requires of us toward Him in the greatest Commandment – Deut. 6:5 –

You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

Its what I have come to know as the appropriate response for all God has done for me. Yet that is not the end. It is also the love I am to show my neighbor. And that’s where we are seeing the breakdown right now in America. And in our homes. Our neighborhoods. And across the globe.

hard thingsLoving God is Easier than Loving You

Sometimes loving God is much easier because He is so worthy of my affection and all of my devotion – and more. But the cute pet that just bit my finger half to death for the 456th time this year? That one who will be with me till my dying breath, dependent on me to give selflessly until eternity– unable to offer anything in return but bite after bite and denial upon denial of wrongdoing or guilt?

That one is difficult to agape.

But this is us. It’s what most of us do to God. He is AGAPE. The very embodiment.

Yet I am unable to it most days in the hard places of my life. By gritting my teeth and digging down a little deeper it is impossible. Instead, I beg for God to supernaturally give this love through me. To change whatever needs to be changed, transform whatever needs to be remade or undone because I.Cannot.Agape. in the hard places of my life by myself.

So I stay on my knees daily, and I fail often. I have moments like those I expressed to you with my mom. I try not to make any major decisions in those moments or engage in cataclysmic relational altercations. But through the years, this is what I am learning.

Agape looks beyond what is typically valued as “lovable,” and determines to love the unlovable even at great personal cost. It is most purely expressed when we give it to those from whom we have nothing to gain. When we show love to those who can do nothing for us, we reflect the love of God shown to us in Christ. In His Image – by Jen Wilkins

So, here is the joy. The joy is participating in demonstrating exactly this in the hard places of your life. In society and day in which we live. By God’s design, He has placed you in these situations, and by His grace, He is conforming you and molding you to navigate them to reflect the love we have received. There is method to the madness even when it does not appear so.

I don’t know how this falls on you today.

We are going to celebrate. And celebrate big! This week. In a stadium and then again in a park. I’ve purchased the presents, ordered the food, rented the pavilion, and sent out the invitations. Biting or no biting — on my knees agape will prevail.

In our corner of the world seeing all that God had done across the past twelve years is nothing short of miraculous. He exceeds my expectations– even in the nitty-gritty details of life.  I am certain He is able to bring joy in the hard things of your life as well.

with much affection and for His Glory,

 

 

You can also find this blog topic in the form of a podcast under the same title, Joy in the Hard Things, here if you would like to listen or share the information with a friend.

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When God Stands in the Back

When God Stands in the Back

when God stands in the back

Welcome to the blog. I’m so glad you are here. I recently released a podcast on this same topic and it really spoke to my mom. As we are nearing Mother’s Day and we are separated in all of this Sheltering in Place COVID-19 business, as a Shout-Out to her, I wanted to make it available here, for you. Sometimes we all feel like God is standing in the back.

When God Stands in the Back

Think of the type of person who sits on the back row in a lecture, a seminar, or even church. Are they your goody-two-shoes? Your question-askers? Do they try to stay hidden, hanging with their friends, or are they cutting up under the radar? If you have been in at least one class or seminar where you can select your seat, the lines are clearly drawn. That back wall is being held up by a group of comedians waiting for the right moment to unleash their sarcastic and timely gems on the ears available.

Before you become concerned I’m going to get myself into trouble, I married a guy on the back row. A natural cut-up. Oh, he’s funny. A brilliant snarky sarcastic and handsome galoot, he is. That man could read a book and ruin the curve in between distracting commentary every time. In fact, today, we have two separate offices at home or I would never get anything done.

The problem with my perception (and maybe yours) of someone sitting in the back is that I naturally feel as if they really don’t want to be present; and that they will likely not be paying attention. Whether I realize it or not, those perceptions carry over into my understanding of God and His work in my life. I’m just wondering if it is happening in your life, too.

Feelings Transferred

Sometimes we find ourselves in a place that feels very absent of the presence of God. It can feel as if He is standing at the back of the room (so to speak) or sitting on the back row,  and I transfer all of my perceptions and preconceived ideas into my theology. Before I know it, a felt absence of the presence of God —  will not help me find the courage to step out in faith or keep going. I will not receive the comfort needed to get through the next difficulty or hurdle. And I will not possess the confidence to believe what is unbelievable in regular circumstances.

There is an instance I want to bring to light today where God momentarily is not in the front leading. He is not hovering over and above heralding messages. He is not whispering direction or calling out to His own, nor is He working a miracle or showing Himself in any other way. Instead, he has removed Himself from those places and, in essence, is standing in the back ON PURPOSE.

There are times when that feeling that God is not present isn’t due to his lack of participation in your life, but a result of His positioning.

God’s Positioning

Charles Spurgeon assures us in this:

“The presence of God (in our lives) is not to be measured by the realization of it.”

Consider Moses and the Israelites as they have just escaped Egypt. As they are moving out, we are told they went the long way with the Angel of the Lord going before them.

And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people. Exodus 13:21-22

For the first time, these people experienced the presence of God in their midst. The God of the universe was leading them, going out before them. They could see the cloud and the fire. Sweet sleep.  No worries. So much so these slaves left boldly equipped for battle. Confident.

But in a fat minute –Pharaoh and his cronies had second thoughts about losing their free labor and began moving in on the fugitives. The people quickly lost confidence and begin to cry out to the LORD. Then they became a little testy with Moses out of their fear saying things like – “What?! Were there not enough graves in Egypt? Didn’t we tell you it was better for us to stay there?

Moses tells them not to be afraid but to stand still and wait for the Lord, assuring them that God will fight for them.

Response Time

In response, God says to Moses, “What are you standing around waiting on Me for, go forward” even though there is no “forward” place by which to advance. They are kind of on the edge of disaster. Moses is instructed to stretch out his staff over the water so the people will be able to walk across it and God informs Moses what He’s about to do to the bad guys. In these short verses, God has announced His plans and given the people instructions in how to move ahead.

This next part where you and I often begin to drift.

Then the angel of God who was going before the host of Israel moved and went behind them, and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them, coming between the host of Egypt and the host of Israel. And there was the cloud and the darkness. And it lit up the night without one coming near the other all night. Exodus 14:19-20

There are 4 things you and I should remember when God stands in the back that can stir our faith.

When God Stands in the Back, Remember God Moves

This is the most disconcerting of all the realities for me. God moves. And He doesn’t need permission or understanding. He doesn’t even need to make an announcement. Not that we don’t know this reality, but we generally like Him to act like the song, “Jesus, Take the Wheel.”

I expect Him to be in the front, ahead, leading, lighting the way, keeping us on the path until I get to the finish line, victoriously and without sweating too much or having much difficulty.

I recently saw a meme of this same concept,“Jesus, Take the wheel” but instead of taking hold of the steering wheel, Jesus made off with the back left TIRE, making the car undrivable. The caption read, “Don’t take THAT wheel, Jesus!

That’s kind of how life can feel at times. In fact, I connected with a friend a couple of weeks ago only to find this past year had been the worst year of her life. It seemed as if Jesus had taken all of her wheels AND the spare.

This is a very sobering and Biblical principle. There are times when God moves. HE DOES NOT LEAVE, but He moves, causing us to feel a loss of His presence, a hopelessness which ushers in a struggle to believe. Unlikely as it may seem, this movement creates a perfect environment for faith to grow. Terribly uncomfortable, this movement often occurs in the midst of a dark, gloomy, space–much like a pandemic.

When God Stands in the Back, Remember, God Moves for all the Right Reasons

It can happen. God can move. And it can happen for all the right reasons. God moving to the back in this situation is not a result of your sin or my sin. It’s not because you are underperforming, Sister. Get that one straight. God Moves for all the Right Reasons. You and I need to know this.

The loss you feel,

The emptiness–like He is not there

This sense that He cares about other people MORE than you —

That if you were just different – then things would work out for you, too.

No.

Not so.

Then why in thunderation does He ask us to do difficult things and then disappear?

Why does He call us to endeavors that are flooded with impasses?

What is the point in making us jump through hoops to no avail? Or so it seems?

When is tragic loss ever a good idea?

Probably the most profound sentences I read this week reminded of the answer to these typical questions:

Solomon spake many proverbs, and wrote many songs; but none of them attained the glory of that saying, –“Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.Here was a triumph of faith! Beloved, you and I lose the enjoyments of religion and the comforts of hope in order that we may walk by faith and not by sight and may the more greatly glorify God.” C. Spurgeon

In other words, we can get to a hopeless place, feeling like, “what’s the point?” “losing all enjoyments of religion” by God’s design for the purpose of strengthening our faith, NOT TO DESTROY IT. It is not His intention for us to crash, burn, blaze and turn away, but that our faith be kindled, stirred, to a red hot boil in way that it could not have glorified God before.

When God Stands in the Back, He is Not Distracted but Planted

When God does move from leading to the back, He is not distracted. He is completely 110% paying attention to you. He is not twitchy or distant but unreservedly planted. We know this from the language where the Bible shows us that when the Angel moved, he “stood.” His feet were firmly planted for your good. He’s not floating around willy-nilly half-listening, waiting for something interesting to do. He is not playing a GameBoy until the trouble passes, but securely standing in between you and whatever is coming against you out to harm, destroy, or thwart His plans for your life. When you cannot feel His presence it is so easy to reject this truth. Remember, You are a big deal to Him.

When God Stands in the Back, He is Doing Double-Duty

We find God actually busy working in this passage, doing two things at once from this position. Before, He was leading. But presently, He is both a cloud and a fire. He has become a barrier between what needs to be fought against to keep the badness away from his children that has no permission to come near –putting a hedge of protection around as well as a source of light in the darkness.

It doesn’t take much light to make a difference in a dark place. Our problem is that we get so discouraged, so tired, so buried in our pain and suffering wondering, “Why, if this is T The Way, are having to endure this yuckiness,” that we miss the light placed for us in the darkness.

Guilty as charged. That’s me.

What shall we do? Look for it, my friend. Trust it’s going to be there. It may be small, like a night light. Just remember. Your God is pulling double duty when you cannot feel His presence. He has positioned Himself in the rear, to stand in the back because:

It is for your protection-

For your strengthening –

And for your good.

He is not gone. He has just moved to cover your back.

When God Stands in the Back, Keep Moving

When God stands in the back, He means for you to keep moving out. No. There was no visible path ahead when we left Moses and the Israelites at the edge of disaster. They had been given instructions and were told to move forward.  Nothing changed just because God moved. This is where faith is strengthened.

Friend, are you staring at the edge of the water NOT doing what you thought He called you to do because I don’t know– a million different reasons for how it’s not working out? And it feels like its’ just stupid and He’s not here?

Could it be your God has been here all along?

Your God is still present. He means for you to go on with what He’s told you to do.

Oh, how I pray His Word speaks over you today. I pray the Lord moves you to a deeper faith, to believe Him more, and to go and do what He’s called you to go and do in the midst of impossibilities, pandemics, and disappointments. I pray the same for myself.

May these verses rush over us and leave us different in the coming days with a greater understanding and a stronger faith.

For His Glory,

 

 

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When the Merry Goes Missing

finding Merry

When the Merry Goes Missing

Hi! And welcome to the first day in a four-day series right here during the holiday season. While most people are sporting their Ho, Ho, Ho sweaters with a grin uncomparable any other time of the year, there are those of us who struggle to be happy the season is here. The merry is missing, and you don’t know how to find it. Because this is a real issue, we need to take it to the only One who can help, and that is Jesus Christ.

You have permission to struggle here. Take your less-than-giddy self before the Lord. Ask Him to speak to you and help you find your merry.

Read the following passage from Hebrews.

For on the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness

(for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God.

And it was not without an oath. For those who formerly became priests were made such without an oath,

But this one was made a priest with an oath by the one who said to him:

“The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest forever.’”

This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant.

The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office,

But he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever.

Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. Hebrews 7:18-25

Day 1: When the Merry Goes Missing

Christmas time can be void of merriment for many of us. Often life hemorrhages with burdens all year long beyond the energy you have to expend. This heaviness can’t be lifted with the Hallmark channel, a winning ugly sweater or your Aunt Susie’s eggnog.

Maybe you are having a season like my friend experiencing the holidays for the first time after the loss of loved ones. She can wear her old Christmas sweater but she isn’t welcoming this new normal.

Or you might understand my neighbor’s lack of holiday cheer who prefers the HOLIDAYS disappear. The pain associated with them is too great. Shortly after the unwanted divorce, an only child died of cancer. In such suffering and loss, the merry in Christmas can be sucked right out.

Impossible health diagnoses, catastrophic losses, and difficult relationship issues are just a few of the realities confronting people. How, then, with such suffering, can we experience the joy we desire for the season?

Recognize we have a Savior who does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. 

Jesus lives to intercede for us.

We find this principle in Hebrews where the writer explains how the Old Covenant with the Law, priests, and sacrifices represented the forerunner to the New Covenant. In the Old Covenant, the priests were chosen by God to offer sacrifices on behalf of the people and their sins, serving as mediators between sinful man and God. In the New Covenant, God’s Son became the perfect sacrifice, making Jesus, the priest and mediator for us.

Why?

Why can you and I be merry in the midst of our mayhem and imperfect circumstances?

Because Jesus is interceding on our behalf.

Maybe you don’t have the hoopla within for the seasonal festivities. There’s not enough strength. You might not have an inkling how you will even fake a smile, and you fear the emptiness is beginning to show. Remember this:

He is able to save to the uttermost, the one that draws near.

That means when you take your situation and your joyless predicament to Jesus, He is going before the throne, Himself. When you and I don’t have the wherewithal to get the twinkle lights untangled, or even utter a half-hearted “Merry Christmas,” He can go the distance on our behalf.

When you can’t yet find your merry, just draw near.

You can also find a version of this plan at www.bible.com or on the free YouVersion app.

with much affection,

 

 

Your God is For You

Your God is For You

Podcast #71

 

Welcome to the Podcast–God is For you

Remember, this podcast is moving soon from THE SHE YEARNS PODCAST to STIRRING FAITH WITH CHERI STRANGE. That means it will have a new RSS. If you are a subscriber you will need to subscribe to the new podcast. Stirring Faith will contain the same type of quality content and messaging — just in a more clear package to help people find it. Be looking for these changes to come by the end of November and into December. For now, we are headed into our latest episode, Your God is For You, right here at the same RSS, She Yearns Podcast. Thanks for listening and being a part of the community!

This is one of my favorite episodes to record lately, because I found it so inspiring, personally. Not only it is inspiring, but it links two activities I have been involved with together — the podcast and a reading plan I have developed called Awakening Hope. I hope you will check it out. I pray both are a benefit to you and someone you know.

Don’t forget about The Show Notes!

Just fill out the form and today’s note will go straight to your inbox. Every episode after you sign up should show up on the device of your choosing. What could be better?

How Awesome is Show Notes?

If you are already a subscriber to the She Yearns Updates, you will begin receiving a link to a pdf. But this is different. By signing up here, you will ONLY RECEIVE Show Notes for the podcast. There is nothing to download unless there is some sort of bonus offered.

You can also use this resource to take with you to coffee with a friend or sit with a small group and talk about the topic together. It’s a quick low prep to no prep way to have a deep discussion about relevant Gospel-centered topics that matter to your everyday lives. So don’t wait! Sign up today!

Besides Teach me, Lord,– Taste, and See is one of my favorite recent episodes. You can find it here if you are interested.

You can now check out the latest episodes from iTunes, GooglePlay, Stitcher, iHeartRADIO, or SoundCloud. Just click on the links below! As always, you can scroll down and listen right here!

soul care

soul care

And if you have not already become a subscriber to the podcast, allow me to invite you to become one for the She Yearns Podcast by going to any of the providers and signing up for the RSS feed to have it automatically updated to your device! It’s basically ONE CLICK! And it doesn’t use any extra memory and really makes life easier.

If you enjoyed this episode, Your God is For You, or found it helpful, please leave a comment or review in your hosting provider service. I also love it when you post below! It really helps us here and anyone who visits the page. We cannot do it without you! The only way the word goes out further is with your help. Please share it as you feel the leading.

Thank you for listening.

 

 

your God is for you