By the Book

where a love of God and good books meet

Tag: disappointments

What I’m Reading: Spring of Thanksgiving

My family is experiencing first-hand how God works in what our very limited human perceptions label as good and bad events. Dealing with dementia, strokes, and a gradual decline leading to what we hope is soon to be my grandmother’s heavenly homecoming we are swimming in a sea of what feels like bad events. But God has given us so many good gifts during this time.

Through the years of dealing with her dementia, God has grown us and provided for us in ways we never expected. He’s brought beautiful things out of the experience and taken care of details we didn’t know would be necessary. Some of the good has been spiritual in nature, but He’s worked out just as many of our physical needs.

I gave up my job to help my mother care for my grandmother. I didn’t hesitate when she asked for help though I knew my position as a full-time caregiver could end at any time, and I have one large bill that my salary pays for each month. When my grandmother went into the memory care facility, I was left without a job. Within a week, I gained employment at my previous job. It’s very part-time, but it’s enough to pay my bill each month. As an added bonus, the limited hours leave me more room for writing and learning about the business side of writing. God provided when I couldn’t. I had to wait and trust until He did.

Waiting when the answer isn’t readily seen is hard. Ivy Cooke, the main character in Liz Tolsma’s book Spring of Thanksgiving, knows that from experience. Ivy and her father are facing tough times on their Texas ranch. A seemingly endless drought and the need to fence their land to protect their property and others due to the railroad has put them in a hard place. Deeply in debt, Ivy has no idea how they will come up with the money to get caught up on their loan.

Facing the loss of their property to the bank is hard enough, but problems seem to pile on. New neighbors claim the spring necessary for getting Ivy’s ranch through the drought is on their property, and there’s nothing they won’t do to prevent Ivy and her father from using it.

Dell Watson is determined to show his father his worth, and the spring in question is his way to do it. Dell’s plan to secure the rights means he has to entice his beautiful neighbor to marry him. Circumstances change when Dell discovers Ivy is far more to him than a tool to get what his family desires. But his family still needs the spring, and the only way he sees to get it is through Ivy.

Dell and Ivy both face difficult circumstances without easy answers. As with most people, their minds work to find solutions to their problems. With their minds and hearts giving conflicting answers, they have to choose whether or not they can trust God with their problems and wait for His solution.

Dell and Ivy may get what they want, or God could give them something entirely unexpected. No matter what the circumstances, they have the choice to trust God’s goodness no matter what happens. Like us, they can choose to let trust lead to praise for His work in the hard and unexpected situations of life. But you’ll have to read Spring of Thanksgiving to find out if they do and if the path God gives them leads them closer or further apart.

What I’m Reading: Under Moonlit Skies

Sometimes God asks us to do the hard thing. I’ve experienced times when God wanted me to say something to someone I knew they wouldn’t like. Confrontation makes me sick to my stomach. Doing what God put in my heart to do was difficult during those times.

People I love have made poor choices that could have led to permanent, disastrous results. I wanted to help fix things for them, but God led me to give them to Him instead. Taking my hands off the situation and limiting myself to being there to listen and to pray for them was incredibly difficult.

I’ve experienced numerous occasions where God has nudged me from my comfort zone. He’s grown me as a person, a Christian, and a writer during those times. Knowing that’s how He works doesn’t make it any easier to choose to immediately listen to His prodding.

Doing the hard thing is, well, hard. It can lead us into situations where the outcome is not guaranteed. Stepping out in obedience to the nudge of the Holy Spirit has worked that way in my life, and it works that way for Esther Stanton in Under Moonlit Skies by Cynthia Roemer.

Esther grew up on the prairie until her father’s death. Being the younger of two sisters, she follows her mother to Cincinnati, Ohio. Life is good there. Her mother remarries, and though they are not close, Esther’s stepfather provides a good, comfortable life for them. Esther has a life-style that doesn’t exist on the prairie. But in her heart, Esther longs for the kind of life she knew growing up.

The flame of this desire is fanned when Esther returns to her hometown to care for her sister’s family while her sister recovers from giving birth to her second child. Time on the prairie brings back to life a vitality Esther has lost since moving to the city.  And time with Stew, a ranch hand working for her brother-in-law, only makes living on the prairie that much more attractive.

Esther and Stew’s attraction grows to friendship and continues on the path to love as they spend time together each day. What Esther feels for him and the life they could share together makes the prospect of returning to a man she doesn’t love in Cincinnati seem like a prison sentence. She knows a return to the city and the man who can give her everything financially is exactly what her mother expects, but Esther’s heart longs for more.

The nudge of the Holy Spirit for Esther to honor her mother’s wishes creates conflict in her spirit. She goes, leaving her hopes for a life of love on the prairie in limbo. Her return sets her on a path she doesn’t want but feels she must accept. Only time reveals if Esther’s obedience will lead her back to the life she dreams of or if she will be forced to find contentment in the life her mother wants for her.

There are no guarantees in how the circumstances will work out for Esther as she steps out in obedience, and it’s often the same with us. We have a limited view of our circumstances, but God sees how our picture intersects with the pictures of every other person in our lives. We see many possible outcomes, but He can see infinitely more. We think we know what’s best for us, but God knows what’s going to be best for all involved and bring Him the most glory in the end.

No matter what’s going on, no matter the possible outcomes, there are certain scriptural promises we can cling to. Philippians chapter four tells us we can know peace that goes beyond our circumstances. Jeremiah twenty-nine assures us God has plans for our good, and Psalm one hundred thirty-nine tells us God knows all our days before we’re even born. Romans eight promises that no matter what happens, God can bring good things into our lives through it.

It’s easy to throw these promises out without thought. But they aren’t magic words that make our hurts disappear. While they’re simple to say, living them during our hardest moments is never easy. We can’t pick and choose when to live out scripture and which verses we want to claim. The promises come alive in our lives when we live in active relationship with our heavenly Father in both the good times and the bad. If we’re drawing close to Him, He will draw close to us in our hard times. It’s a promise.

Shattered

dark-3061610_960_720I was involved with our high school theater productions for my three years of high school. I had (non-serious) dreams of one day being an actress. Of course, it might have helped if I was ever actually in a play. But I wasn’t. I got the courage to try out for one, the last one possible, my senior year. I didn’t make it. No, my experience was with sets and lighting. My friends and I built, painted, and lit up the stage for the actors. Once I even put together a vase.

This production involved a vase shattering as it hit the floor. We couldn’t take the chance that it would fail to break. So, I got to take the vase home, break it, and glue it back together again. It’s easier said than done. It has to break in big chunks that can be adhered together again. If the pieces are too small, it’s nearly impossible to get the vase put back together in a way that doesn’t look compromised. Even being as careful as I was, I’m not sure I would’ve trusted it to hold water.

Often that’s what happens when things are broken. They can be put back together again, but they may not work exactly like they were first intended. They’ve changed. Sometimes, it’s for the better. Other times, not so much. It really depends on who’s doing the fixing and what kind of shape the thing was in before it was damaged to the point of needing repaired.

The same can be said for people. There are things that come along and threaten to break us. Sometimes they do break us, at least for a time. They throw water on the picture we’ve painted for our lives leaving our carefully chosen colors to run down the canvas. Our masterpiece is destroyed. These experiences are different for each person. The loss of a dream, a job, a family member or a person’s health could be the devastating blow. Disappointment, hurt, or betrayal could be what it takes to push you to the breaking point. What devastates me might seem like a cake walk for you. What seems hard for you might be easy for me. It doesn’t matter if others might be able to handle it better. What matters is that we’re in pain. We’ve found ourselves in the middle of a mess that we have no idea what to do with.

These times are the focus of Sheila Walsh’s book, In the Middle of the Mess: Strength or This Beautiful, Broken life. And what Sheila has to offer believers is desperately needed, freedom to be transparent. Starting with her own story, her own failures, her own hurts, and honesty about how these things affected her life and still do, Sheila invites the reader to be honest about their own issues. Her ability to share so openly about things she knows can bring judgement in some Christian circles is inspiring. It allows the readers to see she believes the message whole-heartedly. That alone is enough to bring hope. Everyone wants to feel they are not alone.

But it doesn’t end there. Sheila weaves scripture and practical lessons on how to deal with life’s devastations into each chapter. She challenges readers to honestly evaluate themselves each step of the way. And she does it in a way that makes you feel safe doing so.

While taking a faith-based perspective and encouraging practices that are fueled by belief in God and the scriptures, Sheila doesn’t shy away from acknowledging the need to take other practical steps to help deal with the aftermath of the circumstances that threaten to destroy our lives as we knew them. It’s this binding together of faith with the practical and illustrating with real life examples that make her lessons powerful.

For those who have not ever experienced the proverbial “dark night of the soul”, Sheila’s book is one to read. She has taken concepts that are hard to understand when they’ve not been experienced and makes them relatable. With greater understanding comes more empathy and love. Judgement is lessened, and hearts can find the One who can heal as His followers pour out His love on those in pain. Hope is given, not necessarily for a change in circumstances, though Sheila does acknowledge our God is the One who can make that happen, but that we can know peace and joy and love even in our circumstances. This book points us to His answer for our own hurts and to help others as they search for healing in their hurts.  And God is the One who can put back together the broken in ways that make them stronger than they ever were to begin with.

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