Finding Shelter in the Storms of Life

 

Photo Credit: Pixabay

 

My husband and I are motorcycle enthusiasts, and for years we enjoyed long-distance rides with our friends Marcia and Steve. On one occasion when we were riding in Colorado, an electrical storm bore down on us when we were riding through a vast expense of open road. We could see the fury of the storm headed our way and immediately looked for shelter to find protection from the deadly lightening bolts striking the earth.

Over the course of my life, I’ve faced personal storms. Many have felt deadly, and I’ve pleaded with God for shelter. But the storm I faced in Colorado, as well as others taught me an important lesson.

Experiencing God’s shelter in times of crisis isn’t a passive experience.

Finding shelter requires us to seek God.

That day on our motorcycles, we saw danger and quickly began to look for shelter. We didn’t expect someone to bring a building and erect it over our heads. Finding shelter was our responsibility. We needed the discernment not to look for a building with a steel roof or to park our bikes under a cluster of tall trees. Too often when we’re in a place of crisis, we throw up prayers asking for protection, but then we go and do something foolish, like sitting down next to a body of water during an electrical storm.

God is our only source of safety.

When we understand this is true, we focus our eyes on Him. We trust His character. We listen for His voice by spending time in prayer and in the Word.  Is this easy when we’re hurting? No. It’s easier to pull the covers over our heads and feel like a victim or blame God for the pain. It takes concerted effort to direct our burdened heart away from our sick child, our wayward spouse, our unpaid bills, that new diagnosis, our broken heart. But focusing on God does not mean covering our eyes in the storm and pretending it’s not there. It means trusting His goodness, mercy, and love to be our shelter in the storm.

 

Finding shelter means choosing to trust God’s immeasurable love when circumstances don’t make sense.

The world will never make sense. Circumstances will always break our hearts because the world is infested with sin, and the final solution to sin isn’t put into motion until Jesus comes again.

Our only shelter, our only hope, is God’s love, which is beyond our ability to comprehend. His love, His mercy, and His grace are our shelter. That day in Colorado, we drove for miles looking for shelter, but God promises that if we seek Him, we will find Him, and He will be our refuge and strength (Ps. 46:1).

How have you found shelter in God? We’d love to hear from you.

How to Cast Your Burdens for Good

Photo Credit: Pixabay

Recently I’ve been having pain in my shoulders. I’ve developed problems with my rotator cuff  because I tend to carry things that are too heavy for me.

This is particularly annoying to me because a few years ago my doctor ordered physical therapy for this problem. Of course, I was advised not to carry heavy things, but I tend to think I’m superwoman. My thinking goes like this: “I’m the only person who can do this,” or “It needs to be done right now.” Then there’s, “But it’s really not that heavy.”

My stubbornness gets me in trouble, and I end up paying the price.

Self-sufficiency often increases my burdens.

1 Peter 5:7 tells us to cast all our anxiety on the Lord because He cares for us. My tendency is to give my anxieties a gentle toss and then quickly go pick them up again. This is the kind of thinking is I’ve applied to my rotator cuff.: “I know better. I can do it myself.”

Except I can’t. My self-efforts cause me even more pain.

Casting our burdens should be like throwing our worries into the current of Niagara Falls, trusting they are forever swept away in its power.

Casting our burdens on the Lord means trusting His power. Like the powerful Niagara Falls, He will sweep them away. We don’t ever have to pick them up again because His love is so mighty, He can only do good. While we aren’t promised shelter from life’s storms, we are promised shelter in the storms. We can trust God because of His loving, sacrificial, unchanging nature. He promises to work even life’s greatest heartaches and seeming disasters for our good.

When you give God your problems, imagine them tumbling one-by-one over Niagara Falls and swept into His hands.

This simple visual help me. It helps me think about the power of Go and my own powerless to control my life. Yet my compulsion to control what I cannot or should not can drive my behavior. Standing beside the Niagara River at the side of the falls terrifies me. My husband grew up in the Buffalo area, and I know stories of those who lost their lives in the raging waters. When I think of

Then tell yourself they’re gone because they are, if you leave them in His hands.

Then turn to God in faith and talk to Him about it.

Ask Him for your desire.

Ask Him to work out the circumstances for His glory.

Focus on the character of God and His past faithfulness.

Pray and listen for the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

And trust God to control things you cannot or should not. He is committed to your good.

 

What about you? Do you struggle with anxiety and trusting God with your struggles? How have you handled this issue in your life? I’d love to hear from you.

Shelly

When It Doesn’t Feel Like Christmas

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

By Shelly Beach

When we hear the word “Christmas,” our minds typically run to festivities, food, family, gifts, and gatherings. But for many people, Christmas can feel far from joyful. The realities of life ultimately bring separation, grief, loss, brokenness, and other challenges. Physical, relational, and circumstantial blows can overwhelm us. We may  feel we don’t have the strength to face the holiday season and be tempted to withdraw from those who want to offer support.

The Christmas blues can also come from harried schedules, unmet expectations, busted budgets, shopping burn-out, and the pressure that comes with gathering imperfect and unique family members under one roof.

Many of my friends are separated from their loved ones at Christmas. One friend’s husband just received word of an advanced stage recurrence of his cancer. Another dear friend’s husband recently left her–and took the kids. And a beloved couple I know is facing potential homelessness after discovering their new home is infested with toxins.

Where do we draw comfort during the holiday season, when the world seems to be celebrating?

Psalm 19:7-8 tells us that God’s Word is sure and reassures our soul: “”The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul . . . the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart . . . ” God never leaves us. He is for us. He promises to bring good out of the messes of our life. When life looks like chaos, we can trust His love.

Isaiah 9:6 tells us

“For unto us a child is born,

to us a son is given,

and the government will be on his shoulders.

And he will be called

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

True comfort comes in knowing Jesus came to be God with us in our sorrow and pain.

Jesus placed Himself among strangers in a filthy world of disease, dysfunction, deception, and despair. Why? To experience our pain, to walk among us, to take on human form so He could truly know us. But God’s Son ultimately traded heavenly perfection for earthly brokenness so He could be crushed by the weight of the corporate sins of the world–an agony we cannot possibly imagine.

Christmas is about love so great that God chose the pain of the world.

Immanuel. God with us. God, who was born in a chilly, damp barn in the cold, rainy winter season. God, whose first breaths were of dirt and dung, a new mother who did not know the luxury of a shower, and a father’s work-roughened hand upon his face.

This is Christmas–God with us, in the blood, sweat, and tears of this world.

Our Savior.

Our Wonderful Counselor, who gives us wisdom for the asking.

Our Mighty God, who has already won our battles for us.

Our Everlasting Father, who offered His only Son to die in our place so we could live in freedom.

Our Prince of Peace, who offers forgiveness, reconciliation, and security in the storms of life.

Glory to God in the highest.

 

As a gift to you, please listen to the song “It Doesn’t Feel Like Christmas This Year,” written by Steve Siler, founder and Executive Director of MusicfortheSoul.org. To play the song, click HERE, then click on the Preview button at the bottom of the screen.

Five Things to Tell Yourself Every Morning

I don’t know about you, but I don’t spring out of bed in the morning with a smile on my face and a song in my heart. My body hurts. I’m still tired. I don’t want to sweep the kitchen again and find spatters on the mirror that I washed yesterday. I need to hit the shower and grab breakfast.

The thing I need most each morning is to start my day affirming who I am, why I’m here, and how much God loves me.

Why? Because every day untrue messages about our identity and purpose inundate our mind, soul, and spirit. For instance,

  • You’re not enough.
  • Your purpose is to be good, do good, and just keep on swimming.
  • If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.
  • Money, sex, and power are the keys to happiness.
  • Revenge is sweet.
  • You can never really trust someone’s love.
  • In order to be worth it you need to (fill in the blank).

The only truth we can ever rely on is God’s truth. He alone is unchanging, all-knowing, and forgave every sin and mess we would ever create before we took our first breath. We are incapable of understanding His love for us. In a messed up, broken world, He alone is LOVE we can rely upon in our darkest moments.

  1. I am limitlessly, exuberantly, endlessly loved by God.

God’s love gives me purpose. He chooses to partner with His children to bring purpose from chaos in the world. We are His disciples, the light of the world. When I get up ever morning, I know that my words and actions set into motion eternal ripples of cause and effect.  Ephesians 2:8 tells us, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

2. God gives me a purpose for and in every second of my life–especially in moments when I can’t see it.

God has a plan for your life. He created you with a purpose. One of the most important purposes we can fulfill is one we often overlook and take for granted: God created us to enjoy an intimate relationship with us. We enter into that relationship by believing in Jesus. The Bible tells us that if we have seen Jesus, we have seen the Father (God).

Having a close relationship with God is like any other relationship. We need to spend time with Him. We need to talk to Him in prayer. We need to read His love letter to us–the Bible–to help us better see and understand His profound love for us.

We are also created to glorify God in all we do and say; to praise Him; to grow in the fruits of the Spirit; to use our gifts and talents for Him, and to share what God has done for us with others.

3. I am enough because I am God’s daughter.

God’s opinion is the only opinion that matters. He created me and orchestrates every atom in the universe. No one can diminish my value. God willingly gave His Son Jesus as a sacrifice for my sins. God loved me more than the love that has ever filled the hearts of mankind. He says I am enough and I am His.

4. The most truthful things about me is that I am who God says I am: beautiful, chosen, forgiven, and free from shame.

Jesus paid it all,

All to Him I owe,

Sin had left a crimson stain,

He washed it white as snow.

I am free. I am forgiven. I am chosen. I am God’s beautiful child.

5. I am free to love even my enemies as freely as God loves me.

We find true freedom when we forgive our enemies as God forgave us. Of course, this is not actually possible. We do not possess God’s capacity for forgiveness. But through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are empowered to love our enemies and those who spitefully use us.

This is perhaps the most difficult affirmation to claim–especially when we watch others abuse our loved ones. Forgiveness does not mean “off the hook” or forgetting about consequences. Forgiveness means to pardon or cancel a debt. That individual no longer owes you anything. They may owe a penalty to the law or an institution or someone else, but you free them from bondage to your anger.

I challenge you to begin your morning for one month with these five affirmations. Say them out loud as you look into a mirror, and use your name as you speak them. Write them on a card and carry them with you through the day. Then observe how the Spirit of God works in your life.

–Shelly

Preventing Eldercare Burnout: Setting Boundaries

 

It’s hard for caregivers to learn to say no.

We want to provide the bet care possible while balancing multiple roles, the demands of illness, our communities, and the countless responsibilities of life. We are often fatigued, overworked, and unrecognized. But it is important that early on we become experts in setting boundaries as caregivers. We will always have limitations and be faced with the trap of false guilt.

So what can we do? The following tips are recommended by caregiving experts.

Set boundaries early.

  • Make a realistic list. What do you think you can do, and what do you think can’t do–both now and in the longterm. Believe it or not, you can’t do everything, and you’re not good at everything. For instance, if you’re not good at your own finances, it wouldn’t be wise to try to manage your aging parent’s money. Delegate, and talk to a lawyer who handles eldercare issues. Assist Guide Information Services (AGIS) provides comprehensive guides for caregivers.
  • Assess what will you need.This will change as time goes on. You may not need in-home care services right now, but you likely will at some point in the future. Know what types of tasks will be beyond your ability physically, financially, and in other ways. Make sure your assessment is realistic and provides a plan for the future. AARP offers a free Prepare to Care: Caregiving Planning Guide.
  • Be realistic about what you can and cannot do. Assess your health, your finances, your living situation, the distance from your loved one’s home, their health needs and longterm prognosis. What challenges lie ahead? For instance, you may desire to have your loved one in your home, your home design may make it difficult for them to live with you

 

Commit to taking care of yourself.

  • Assess your current health needs. Do you have a chronic illness that requires attention? Are you working a full-time job? What other roles and responsibilities do you need to protect?
  • Be aware of depression and signs of burnout. According to the Cleveland Clinic, caregiver burnout is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion. Caregivers who are burned out may experience fatigue, stress, anxiety, and depression. Be aware of symptoms: withdrawing from friends, loss of interest in activities, irritability, fatigue, insomnia, weight loss or loss of appetite. Be aware that caregivers often try to meet unrealistic expectations and struggle to distinguish between their role as caregiver and spouse/child/parent, etc.
  • Be prepared to scale back if your needs begin to suffer.

 

Gather a support team.

  • If possible, find an advocate. This person assists in making connections for things you need and for gathering and distributing information on your behalf when necessary. It’s sometimes easier to have others ask on our behalf than to ask ourselves. And in times of crisis, it can be helpful to have someone serve as our contact person.
  • Ask for help. Consider family, neighbors, community services, church support, and other available assistance. Call the Area Agency on Aging in the county where you parent resides and ask for an in-home assessment and information on available resources.
  • Find a support group—online or face to face. If your loved one has been diagnosed with a chronic illness, disease-specific support groups can be helpful. Two respected general groups are the Caregivers Action Network (CAN) and the Caregiver Alliance.

For inspirational and practical reading, check out Precious Lord, Take My Hand: Meditations for Caregivers and Ambushed by Grace: Help and Hope on the Caregiving Journey.

 

A Theology of Suffering

Photo Credit: Pexels

 

I recently took much needed time for myself for a week of intensive trauma therapy. I’ll reserve this topic for another time, but while I was there, I spent time grieving losses, wounds, and putting a long list of trauma stories in the past.

No matter who you are, life is hard. And yes—God is good, no matter how hard our life has been.

As Christians, we’re called to suffer. We often fight against this idea, thinking a loving God would always want us to experience blessings and prosperity. “After all,” we ask, “how can a good God watch his children suffer?”

As parents, we would never willingly put our children through suffering, right?

Well, that’s really not true. One of our kids was born with a medical condition that required extensive testing. As much as we hated it, my husband and I had to subject our baby to torturous tests they were too tiny to comprehend. We even asked the doctors if these procedures could be processed by our child’s preverbal mind as abusive. He assured us that our baby would be okay, but I was still doubtful.

But in spite of the pain, we knew our child had to endure suffering in order for doctors to determine the appropriate medical protocol for treatment.

What was needed for our child’s long-term wellbeing surpassed the immediate discomfort of their pain.

Romans 5:3-5 states: “And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

I’d prefer not to live with chronic illness and pain. Pain is discouraging, debilitating, and isolating. But I do not lose hope in suffering, knowing that God’s strength can be seen in my weakness, that I am strongest when I find my strength in Him, and that perseverance builds my faith and hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.

A theology of suffering allows us to understand the reality of suffering around us within the context of a loving God.

Suffering is not evidence of absence of faith.

Suffering is not “bad” and something that should be avoided.

Suffering is not a good that should be embraced.

Suffering is a necessary aspect of spiritual growth.

God delivers us through suffering. He grows us within the context of community through suffering. He pulls us closer to Himself through suffering. God grows us spiritually through suffering, which is an insidious part of the world we live in. We gain authentic entry into the lives of others who suffer through our own experiences and knowledge of God’s unfailing mercy and grace in our time of need. Suffering is the battleground of our faith, where we face our fears, our pride, our idols, and learn to trust God for Who He Is.

Everything about this world has been broken by sin, including bodies that are born touched by the fall of humanity in the garden of Eden. As God’s children we can rejoice in suffering—not because we enjoy it, but because pain does not leave us in shame or diminish us; it draws us closer to our ever-faithful Savior and makes us more like Him.

Be blessed by Every Single Tear, produced by Music for the Soul. Click on Every Single Tear, then Preview.

The Isolation of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

One of the most frustrating aspects of living with trauma and PTSD is isolation.

It can be virtually impossible to explain how you feel or why you feel the way you do to other people. This is often a source of shame and embarrassment. People with PTSD often find themselves isolating. They may also give partial explanations to friends and loved ones because they know that the reality that they live will sound senseless to those who haven’t experienced it. Friends and family cannot understand how trauma alters the physical function of the brain because they have not experienced it.

People make judgments based on their experience.

We see a behavior that seems “odd,” and instead of wondering why or seeking out the story behind the behavior, we make assessments and draw conclusions. Trauma and PTSD are the why beneath many behaviors that are easy to judge: obsessive-compulsive disorders, self-abuse, anxiety and depression, addictions, self-harm and self-hatred, eating disorders, and many other negative coping mechanisms.

PTSD and social anxiety disorder (SAD) often occur together. 

A diagnosis of SAD requires frequent and unending fear of social situations or situations where you are expected to perform in some way. (My symptoms peaked after a brain surgery and neurological episode that also affected my brain function.) You may also feel fearful about appearing anxious or acting in a way that will cause embarrassment or humiliation. You avoid situations that cause fear.

This was my experience, and friends interpreted my behavior as rejection. I was chastised, spiritually scolded, judged, and ultimately I decided that my friends were unable to offer the support I needed.

In retrospect, I can see that my behavior looked like rejection. But fear, not rejection drove my behavior, and at that time I could not find effective therapy to help with my symptoms.

People with PTSD feel isolated because others can’t understand what they have never experienced.

I incurred my greatest traumas caring for others. I would never change that. However, I was unprepared for the trauma symptoms that eventually followed. Eventually, I found compassionate friends who understood. They came alongside me without judgment and listened. They asked what support looked like. They learned about PTSD and trauma. They let me cry and grieve. They did not give easy answers but still spoke the truth.

Eventually I found effective treatment through the Instinctual Trauma Response Method, a treatment approach that effectively rewires the disconnection that occurs between the right and left hemispheres of the brain during a traumatic event. The ITR Method gives the trauma story a beginning, middle, and an ending and recodes the event in a way that allows it to be filed in the brain as a completed memory–in the past. More information about this treatment is available at HelpforTrauma.com.

The cognitive distortions that accompany trauma and PTSD also contribute to isolation.

People who live with the symptoms of PTSD withdraw because their brain is controlled by fear caused by adrenaline and cortisol released during traumatic events. Their brains become “stuck” in a fear response. Unfortunately, friends and loved ones often believe that logic and rationality will provide a solution to fear, when in actuality, the brain needs to be recoded.

Cognitive distortions include filtering out the positive and magnifying the negative, black-and-white thinking, jumping to conclusions, overgeneralizing catastrophizing (disaster will strike at any time), blaming (other people are responsible for our problems), “shoulds” (rules about how others and we should act), emotional reasoning, and other reasoning fallacies. This makes it difficult for people with PTSD to make well-reasoned decisions and to trust people.

People with PTSD need medical assistance to first address the physical damage in the brain. PTSD is a physiological problem that causes mental health symptoms. Addressing the spiritual aspects of symptoms and behaviors should come after an individual receives effective trauma treatment that restores the ability to make reasoned choices, control emotions, and see one’s self from a healthy perspective. Just as a diabetic needs appropriate medical treatment for the pancreas, the individual with PTSD needs appropriate medical treatment for the brain. Both should come accompanied by prayer and reliance upon God, our Ultimate Healer.

If you know someone who lives with PTSD and trauma, they also struggle with feelings of isolation. They need compassionate friends who are willing to listen and learn about trauma and PTSD. More than anything, they need the relentless love of Jesus, who never leaves us or forsakes us.