Life in Focus

Where following Jesus and Every Day Life Intersect


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When I Am Weak, Then I Am Strong

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Turning my head for the briefest moment, I realized my carelessness just in time to see my front wheel colliding with the curb. The pavement seemed to rise up to meet my face as I crashed in a heap. Before I’d had a chance to react, I was sprawled on the side of the road, tangled in my bike and still clipped into the pedals. Rushing back to help me, my husband gently pulled the bike off me and surveyed my injuries.

The road rash on my swollen cheek and shoulder looked bad, but were minor injuries compared to the pain radiating down my right arm. A trip to the ER confirmed I’d fractured my elbow. Wrapping my arm from shoulder to fingers, the nurses listened sympathetically as I lamented that I didn’t have time to slow down at such a busy time of year.

Initially I didn’t realize that even my most common activities would be impacted by this injury.   I knew I could forget about getting exercise for a while. The effort required for simple tasks like bathing and dressing was hard enough. What I didn’t anticipate was that holding a book, writing and typing with two hands would also be extremely challenging. Suddenly, the main things I sought for spiritual and mental health were no longer available to me.

Lying in bed the morning after my accident, I realized I needed to find some new ways to connect with God that were outside of my usual practices. I thought of the many people who constantly share their life happenings on social media—it almost seems as if events don’t really “count” unless they’re posted. It turns out I can be the same way with my spiritual disciplines. If I don’t write prayers in my journal or fill in answers in a Bible study workbook, I feel like I haven’t done an actual “quiet time” like a dutiful and faithful Christian “should.”

I’ve written and thought a lot about the idea of abiding—of remaining present and engaged with God throughout each day. With the limitations created by my injury, God is challenging me to find new ways to do this consistently. My broken elbow has caused me to be a lot less productive and a lot more introspective. Holding an ice pack to my face with my left hand and having a nearly unusable right hand prevents me from multitasking like I usually would. It’s hard to grasp a book or even scroll through my phone. In those idle moments I’m trying to focus on God instead of letting my thoughts just ramble. My injury is teaching me to settle into the quiet and just be in God’s presence.

As much as I’ve grown over the years, I’m realizing God still has many things to teach me (or re-teach me). I am learning to trust him in the midst of my physical weakness and to be attentive to what he wants me to learn during the season of forced rest. And with each passing day, I’m learning to be thankful for the ways life has been simplified to accommodate my injury. I’m learning things I would be too busy to recognize in the usual fast pace of my life.

I’m taking comfort from Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth when he writes about an unnamed physical problem that challenged him:

Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:8-10, NIV)

God’s grace was sufficient for Paul. I pray the same will be true of me as I learn to let his power be made perfect in my weakness. With every task I am unable to do with one hand, I’m being prompted to thank him for something- whether it is the patience I’m learning or the people he’s using to help me.

When I completed my last Bible study workbook by Kelly Minter, I started praying God would provide new sources of inspiration for my writing, but I never anticipated it being something like this. I hope you’ll join me over the next few weeks as God teaches and blesses me through this unexpected season of physical challenges. And as you read, I hope you’ll consider the new places he wants to take you on your faith journey this summer. Sometimes you don’t even have to leave home to do it!

I couldn’t resist sharing a song that feels like it was written just for me in the midst of this crazy time.

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Bitter or Better

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The people were parched and weary. After three days of walking in the Wilderness of Shur, they still hadn’t found water. Finally discovering a small spring, they stooped eagerly to scoop the refreshing liquid into their dehydrated bodies, not caring if it ran down their beards or soaked their dirty robes. But, there was a problem: “they could not drink the waters of Marah, for they were bitter. Therefore the name of it was called Marah. And the people complained against Moses, saying, ‘What shall we drink?’ So he cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a tree. When he cast it into the waters, the waters were made sweet.” (Exodus 15:23b-25a, NKJV)

The Israelites’ first reflex always seemed to be negative, despite the miracles they witnessed and God’s constant provision for them.  Any time they experienced a difficulty they reacted with grumbling. The water they couldn’t drink at Marah was bitter, just like their attitudes.

Conversely, we see God demonstrating His patience with them each time Moses cried out with humility asking for help. God took their bitter water and made it sweet. There is no mention of the Israelites showing gratitude to God for performing this miracle.

This story illustrates a truth we can apply to our own lives: living through seasons of hardship can make us bitter people or better people. The choice is ours, but the decision affects all the people in our lives. Each stop on a journey through the wilderness presents a new opportunity to learn, grow and trust God, if we are willing. Priscilla Shirer explains, “This is what God does when we cry out to Him, displaying our vulnerability during seasons of distress and giving Him our need for emotional healing in the face of disappointment. He is the One who can turn the bitter into the sweet.” (One in a Million, p. 65)

I can think of no better example of God making bitter things sweet than Corrie Ten Boom’s classic tale The Hiding Place. It takes place during World War II and tells the story of two unmarried Dutch sisters in their mid-fifties who are sent to Nazi concentration camps after being caught hiding Jews. There are times when I’ve been reading the story aloud to my son that I’ve paused to blink back tears and swallow the lump in my throat. I’m in awe of the example set by Corrie and Betsie Ten Boom.

At one point near the end of the book, the sisters are moved to Ravensbruck, a notorious women’s extermination camp in Germany. As they are ushered into their quarters in Barracks 28, they discover a cavernous room housing four times as many women as it was designed to hold. Corrie describes the scene: “Our noses told us, first, that the place was filthy: somewhere plumbing had backed up, the bedding was soiled and rancid. Then as our eyes adjusted to the gloom we saw that there were no individual beds at all, but great square piers stacked three high, and wedged side by side, and end to end with only an occasional narrow aisle slicing through.” (The Hiding Place p. 208)

As the sisters attempt to settle into their new living situation, Corrie laments to her sister, “Betsie, how can we live in such a place?” It takes Corrie a moment to realize Betsie’s answer is a prayer: “Show us. Show us how.” (p. 208) Within moments Betsie remembers a familiar passage of Scripture and realizes it is the answer to her prayer:  “Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all. See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:14-18 NKJV)

The two sisters marvel at how fitting the passage from First Thessalonians is for their situation and feel it is God’s Word meant especially for them. Rather than being bitter about their horrific circumstances, they begin to thank God, naming specific things for which they can be grateful. First they thank Him that their captors have not separated them and that they are able to endure their trials together. Next, they thank Him for the tiny New Testament they were able to smuggle into the camp. They also thank Him for their cramped living quarters, which will give them ample opportunities to share the hope of His Word with their bunkmates. However, when Betsie suggests they even thank God for the fleas in the bunks, Corrie says “There’s no way even God can make me grateful for a flea.” (p. 210).

Their first night in the barracks, the two sisters listen in distress as “among exhausted, ill-fed people, quarrels [erupt] constantly.” Betsie clasps Corrie’s hand and prays: “Lord Jesus, send Your peace into this room. There has been too little praying here. The very walls know it. But where You come Lord, the spirit of strife cannot exist…” (p. 211).

Over the subsequent weeks the sisters begin sharing the hope of God’s love with anyone who wants to listen.  They hold nightly worship services where women gather around their bunk eagerly awaiting the next portion of the New Testament they’ll read aloud. The atmosphere in the barracks slowly changes as Betsie’s prayer is answered and the women replace their quarreling with love and support.

The two sisters are cautious about advertising their nightly “church service,” fearing they’ll be found out by their Nazi captors. However, they grow bolder as the days pass and they realize the bunkroom never seems to be patrolled. They are mystified but grateful for their freedom in the barracks.

One day, Betsie discovers the reason none of the Nazi guards will enter their quarters: it’s because of the fleas. Corrie says “My mind rushed back to our first hour in this place. I remembered Betsie’s bowed head, remembered her thanks to God for creatures I could see no use for.” (p. 220) Realizing that God deserves thanks even for the fleas leaves Corrie in awe of His attentiveness to every detail.

The Ten Boom sisters could waste their time lamenting their circumstances and being angry with God for allowing them to be arrested for their good works. Yet, they choose to thank Him in the midst of their trials. Rather than turning inward to fixate on self-pity or simple survival, they choose to participate in expandiing God’s kingdom in a place that would rival hell itself.   They care for the physical, spiritual and emotional needs of their fellow prisoners. They even pray for their ruthlessly cruel guards.

It’s humbling and inspiring to read about these two women. What an incredible impact they had because they chose to become better people instead of bitter ones in the midst of their trials.

Between the example of the Israelites and the Ten Booms, it seems clear that grumbling and negativity lead to an attitude of bitterness that infects others. Conversely, gratefulness and a positive perspective are blessings to others and expand our opportunities to have a positive impact on them. The Apostle Paul describes this in his letter to the Philippians:

“Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation. Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life.” (Philippians 2:14-16, NIV)

In spite of their horrific wilderness experience, Betsie and Corrie Ten Boom shined like stars in their generation as they held firmly to the word of life. I’d like to do the same in my generation, how about you?

Laura Story’s Song “Make Something Beautiful” captures the essence of letting God use our hardships to honor Him and bless others. Click on the link below to enjoy the song.

Shirer, Priscilla; One in a Million: Journey to Your Promised Land; Lifeway Press; 2009, 2014.

Ten Boom, Corrie (with Elizabeth and John Sherrill); The Hiding Place; Chosen Books; 1971, 1984, 2006.


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Wandering in the Wilderness Doesn’t Mean You’re Lost

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The tears were unpredictable and disconcerting. I’d be sitting at the breakfast table with my kids or lying in bed trying to fall asleep and suddenly I’d find myself sobbing uncontrollably. It had been a hard year and although I’d been clinging to the Psalms and praying constantly, the emotional heaviness wouldn’t lift. I was wandering in a wilderness of pain and confusion, much like Priscilla Shirer describes in One in a Million. In her study, she says God “often chooses a wilderness journey for us to give us an opportunity to experience Him in a way we might miss in a place of ease and convenience…we have to decide if we will follow where He is leading and trust that He knows what he is doing” (p. 34-35).

For me, that wilderness time came unexpectedly. Over the span of a few months, three significant relationships in my life changed course without warning, leaving me wondering what I’d done wrong.   Each person had withdrawn from me for different reasons. My safe and comfortable world suddenly felt cold and lonely. Worse still, one of the relationships was within my circle of friends at church. So I struggled silently, not wanting to gossip or call attention to the ways our close community was being quietly torn apart. Attending Sunday worship, Bible study and small group became triggers for anxiety and discouragement. I often left feeling worse than when I arrived.

I’d been living in this wilderness for eight months when the tears started flowing inexplicably. Without warning, a flood of emotion would overwhelm me, with no clear explanation for what had caused it. Despite my efforts to lean into God, to pray and find comfort in His Word, the deep sadness seemed to be pulling me under little by little. It was a difficult time in my life, but few people knew about it. I was a master at putting up a façade and appearing to have everything under control.

Finally, when my angst seemed to consume every moment of our time at home, my husband said the dreaded words I needed to hear. “I’m here for you and I want to help you, but I think it’s time for you to go to counseling too.” After some weak protesting, I admitted he was right. Making the phone call to schedule the first appointment was one of the best and hardest things I’ve ever done. Maybe that’s why Priscilla Shirer’s words resonate with me so much: “You and I must boldly ask the Lord to let us see Him, even if the light of his presence is best seen against the veil of darkness.” (p.37)

With the help of my godly counselor, I began to peel back the layers of pain. I was able to understand myself and to see how the fractured relationships I’d been grieving were indicators of deeper issues that needed to be confronted. I’d been wandering on my own, trying to find relief, now I had a fellow traveler on my wilderness journey. She had a map and the tools I needed to find emotional healing and health. The things that caused me pain became catalysts for growth.

Although that was a dark time in my life, I look back on it now with gratitude. I learned about my assumptions and how they affected the way I saw myself. My identity was wrapped up in my relationships with people and my desire to be valued by them. That season in the wilderness was refining the parts of me that needed to be changed before God could use my gifts to bless others. I doubt I would be writing this or any other blog if I hadn’t gone through that time or done the hard work to get healthy with the help of my counselor.

Taking that journey through the wilderness enabled me to be more honest with myself. It allowed me to be authentic and to identify with others in their struggles. Instead of trying to hide the parts of me that were messy and complicated, I started using them to connect with others and to help them on their own journeys. My wilderness experience made it possible for me to do what Scripture describes:

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4, NIV)

My desert wandering led me to become healthier emotionally, spiritually and relationally.  I was never lost because God was right beside me the whole time, gently guiding and teaching me through my struggles.

Similarly, God never left the Israelites in their wanderings. He was there leading them each step of the way: “Now the Lord was going before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them in the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel day or night. He did not remove the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night from before the people.” (Exodus 13:21-22, NIV)

Each stop along their route had a specific purpose. They were not aimlessly wandering–God was guiding them intentionally throughout their journey. Let this be an encouragement if you are in a season of wandering. God is right there beside you, waiting for you to learn the valuable things He has to teach.

Not every wilderness experience requires the help of a trained counselor like mine did (but don’t rule it out if you think it might help). No matter what we’re facing, our difficulties can always be used for greater good when we trust God, stay engaged in His Word and enlist the support of wise and godly people.

I love the message of Steven Curtis Chapman’s song “Glorious Unfolding.” It reminds me never to put a period where God intends a comma. God sees so much farther than our limited view of life. Our wilderness journeys are temporary experiences designed to take us to places better than we can imagine. We can stand firm, trusting He’ll walk beside us through the wilderness and all the way to the Promised Land.

Click on the link to enjoy “Glorious Unfolding” and to watch the inspiring story the video tells.

Shirer, Priscialla; One in a Million, Journey to Your Promised Land; Lifeway Press, 2009