Endurance

James 1:2-4  Don’t run from tests and hardships, brothers and sisters. As difficult as they are, you will ultimately find joy in them; if you embrace them, your faith will blossom under pressure and teach you true patience as you endure. And true patience brought on by endurance will equip you to complete the long journey and cross the finish line—mature, complete, and wanting nothing. (VOICE)

Long distance runners I’ve read about say that there comes a point when it seems too difficult to finish the race, but by powering through they get a “second wind” that takes

photo by Joshbdork at English Wikipedia

them to the finish line.

Never having been a distance runner (and never desiring to be one) I don’t know that aspect of running to be true. However, in the verses above James says the same thing concerning our spiritual journey.

I’ve been in a discouraging place lately, especially concerning my bipolar stepson. I don’t see him making any progress or doing positive things that would help him navigate his illness.

My joy was all but gone, and I felt like quitting the race.

But James tells me to persevere through these times, “as difficult as they are,” and God will help me get to the other side.

I volunteered one time at a Special Olympics event in the town where I was living. My job was to stand at the finish line and cheer on my particular runner. What fun it was, and those kids weren’t particularly disappointed if they didn’t win. They were just excited to cross the finish line and get a hug.

Guess who’s at the finish line of our race: JESUS!

When we cross that line we not only get a hug, we get a forever life with Him.

Life is a marathon, not a sprint. When we stick it out, our reward is maturity, completeness, and fulfillment.

And Jesus is cheering us on at the finish line.

Keep your eyes on Him.

 

 

 

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Training for Life

1 Corinthians 9:25  Athletes in training are very strict with themselves, exercising self-control over desires, and for what? For a wreath that soon withers or is crushed or simply forgotten. That is not our race. We run for the crown that we will wear for eternity. (VOICE)

Here’s a confession: I love watching American Ninja Warriors competitions. Their extraordinary feats of strength and coordination aren’t just a matter of chance. They don’t just show up and compete, but what they do is the result of planning and training for months and even years.

They train in gyms, and they even build things in their backyards to use for training. They train hard and they train consistently. It is all about preparation, physically and mentally.

When we found out my stepson has bipolar disorder, I prepared. Here’s what I did:

  1. I read books about mental illness.
  2. I researched online about brain disorders generally and bipolar disorder specifically.
  3. I attended the Family to Family class offered by NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Illness). It’s free and they provided us with a huge notebook of information and helps. (Check out their internet site at NAMI.org.)

See anything missing on my list?

I have to admit that when we initially found out about my stepson, turning to God wasn’t the first thing I thought of. Actually, I was a little miffed at God that my life wasn’t turning out to be the wonderful thing I thought I deserved. (Ouch! Did I really say that??)

I didn’t turn to anyone in my church family because, to tell the truth, I didn’t know if they would understand our struggle. The church has been silent concerning the mental health issue for far too long. (It’s getting better, however. That’s for another blog post.)

Watching the Ninja Warriors inspires me but also embarrasses me. Am I as committed to things in my life as they are to their chosen sport?

Am I that committed to God? Do I train spiritually as hard as they train for their competitions? Do I spend time daily with God in prayer and in the Scriptures? Do I attend church and develop relationships with other Christians who can support me in the struggles of life with mental illness?

Do I support others who have the same struggle? I’ve noticed that whenever someone is competing on American Ninja Warriors, the other contestants are all on the sidelines cheering. What a picture of how the body of Christ should function.

So I train, not for a trophy, but for an eternal reward, which is much more important.

 

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Shaping Us Into Something Beautiful

Psalm 66:10  For You have put us to the test, O God; You have refined us as silver is refined.

This week we went to one of our local museums to see a demonstration of blacksmithing by one of our friends. He does this as a hobby, but I was impressed with his knowledge of both the history and the craft.

The main ingredients of metal work are the firing and the hammering.

Living with a person who has a mental illness can feel like that. Fire and hammers.

When it feels like the heat and the pounding are too much, I cry (i.e. complain) to God. I get weary of the tension of not knowing what our family member’s day will be like. Will he be calm today? Will he get anxious or even volatile in response to even minor things?

Why, God, can’t you just heal him?

When a blacksmith heats the metal to a glowing red, he can pound it into the shape he wants. He can then put it into water or oil to cool it down.

So it is with God’s work in my life. There will be those times of firing and hammering, but there will also be times of respite. And when I come up out of the cooling water, I’ll begin to look like what God is creating me to be.

Take heart, my friend. God  is making your life into something beautiful.

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Level Ground

Psalm 143:10  Teach me how to do Your will, for You are my God. Allow Your good Spirit to guide me on level ground, to guide me along Your path.  (VOICE)

I recently started walking every evening around my neighborhood. My reward is good health, but there’s also another reward.

Sometimes I find money – a penny here, a nickel or dime there, or occasionally even a quarter. (Sometimes I don’t find anything, but that doesn’t keep me from looking.)

Another thing about my neighborhood is that no matter where I go, it is either uphill or downhill. While I long for that level ground, I know that the ups and downs boost my physical health.

I got to thinking today about how my walking routine is a lot like my spiritual walk. It’s full of uphill and downhill, and both are good for me. Struggling uphill, especially those steep mountains of discouragement, teaches me to breathe in deeply from the Holy Spirit. Once I am on the downhill side of my problems, I can look back and see how God took me through them.

And the coins? Those are little rewards that show me I am on the right track. Times when I know I am following God’s will, like being in the right place at the right time to be able to serve someone

It sure would be nice to have level ground to walk on all of the time. But just remember that God has a path for your life, and all of it benefits your spirit.

 

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Trusting a Good God

Psalm 118:1  Give thanks to the Eternal because He is always good.
    He never ceases to be loving and kind. (VOICE)

Trusting God has been a life-long struggle for me. When things are confusing or chaotic or just plain scary, my default state of mind is to distrust that God is actually on my side.

Living with a person who has a brain disorder can be messy, and having control of my environment is impossible. God has been speaking to me lately about trusting Him and His plans for my life. And living with a mentally ill person is part of that plan.

 I love this verse from Psalms because it’s unequivocal in its declaration about God. The words “always” and “never ceases” state plainly that God’s basic nature is one of goodness and love and kindness.

If that’s true – and God’s Word is always true – then I can know without a doubt that whatever He allows into my life will benefit me by helping me grow closer to Him and to develop more of a Christ-like character.

You and I may never understand fully what God is doing, but we can always count on the fact that He will never do anything that contradicts His character. Everything He does is motivated by His love for us. So we can rest in the knowledge that the One in control is perfectly good and loving and kind.

I had a quotation on my desk for years. I don’t know where I originally found it, but when I ran across it again this week, I put it on the wall where I’d see it every day. It’s like a booster shot for my faith.

“When you can’t see His face, trust His heart.”

 

 

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God’s Extravagance

1 John 3:1a  Consider the kind of extravagant love the Father has lavished on us – He calls us children of God! It’s true; we are His beloved children.

U.S. National Park Service Saint Mary Lake

We’ve just returned from a trip through Glacier National Park and Yellowstone. It’s some of the most extraordinary landscape God has created.

Throughout Montana I saw something else. At the edges of some fields across the state there were crosses.

Seeing those crosses reminded me that no matter how amazingly beautiful the scenery is, God’s love, shown through His sacrificial death, is even more wonderful.

In the midst of the mental illness journey, the marvels and wonders of God’s creative power reminds me of the comfort and stability of God’s extravagant love.

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The Pattern I Can’t See

Psalm 147:5  Our Lord is great. Nothing is impossible with His overwhelming power. He is loving, compassionate, and wise beyond all measure.  (VOICE)

In the complicated and irregular world of my stepson’s mental illness, nothing is more important than my relationship with God. The assurance of His love and the knowledge that He knows exactly what I am going through can hold me up when I would otherwise fall into a crumpled mess.

Yet, I sometimes get discouraged when my prayers seem unheard. I don’t see much progress in my stepson’s battle with his brain disorder, but I have to believe that God is still in control. Even if I don’t understand how God works, I know that He allows, in His unlimited wisdom, those things that will help me grow.

One time I heard about an illustration that Corrie Ten Boom used. We see our life like looking at the underside of embroidery work, full of ragged ends of different colored threads, lines crisscrossing in random paths. God sees our life from the top, from His vantage point. He sees a beautiful finished piece of art, His own handiwork.

So I am learning to trust Him as I move forward. It may seem like He’s far away, but He’s not.

 

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