Living in the Valley

It has been a few weeks since I wrote a faith post. My husband and I went on a vacation to visit places and people in Wisconsin. It was an enjoyable trip, but I didn't have much time to write. While it is fun and important to get away, the reality is that we live in the ordinary moments of life much more often than in the extraordinary moments. Who doesn't want to live on the mountaintop, but most of us spend the majority of our time trudging through the valley bottom. 

Devil's Lake State Park

Let me say, the valley bottom is not the pristine, green grass, river filled valley. No, it is the valley that runs between two rugged, rocky cliffs and there is no water in sight for miles. Overhead the vultures are constantly circling, waiting for the valley dwellers to stumble and fall so they can begin to feed off their soon to be dead bodies. Not a pretty picture.

When you have no vision from God, no enthusiasm left in your life, and no one watching and encouraging you, it requires the grace of Almighty God to take the next step in your devotion to Him, in the reading and studying of His Word, in your family life, or in your duty to Him. It takes much more of the grace of God, and a much greater awareness of drawing upon Him, to take that next step, than it does to preach the gospel.
— Oswald Chambers - My Utmost for His Highest - March 6th

I love this thought from Oswald Chambers. He says it takes more grace and a more concentrated effort to draw on Him to take the next step in living the ordinary, mundane life, than to preach the gospel. What do you think? Do you agree? 

I have been finding life more and more challenging lately. My energy level is lower, I have physical issues that I never had to deal with before and I am continually reminded, not only of all the things I need to do, but also of all the things I have absolutely no control over. These factors all become part of life in the valley. Living here in the valley becomes a matter of trudging, not running, or skipping or even walking. Every once in a while, it becomes a crawl, a begging on hands and knees with the Master of this land to come and either let it end or bring about some sort of change. It was from this prostrate place that Oswald realized the thoughts he shared in the quote above. It truly does take the grace of the Almighty to take the next step.

 Pixabay

Pixabay

I know, without a doubt, that some of you are in this place. Just like me, you go to bed so exhausted, that you pray God will take you in your sleep, so that you don't have to get up in the morning. Some of you, don't sleep. He doesn't even give you that. But, you do get up in the morning and you start all over again...the walk, the stumble, the crawl. You feel like you could use time away, a retreat, but there is no retreat. You feel like you could use a good, long cry, but you know the tears won't change anything, besides you are too busy, too tired. You feel like you want to run away, to leave everyone and everything behind, just go somewhere and become someone different, but you know that is not the right thing to do and you are just too tired. Day after day, drudgery after drudgery. This is life in our valley.

BUT GOD!

No enthusiasm?

BUT GOD!

No one noticing?

BUT GOD!

No encouragement?

BUT GOD!

Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses;
— 2 Corinthians 6:4 (NIV)
I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.
— Philippians 4:13 (NASB)
I will lift up my eyes to the mountains;
From where shall my help come?
2 My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.
3 He will not allow your foot to slip;
He who keeps you will not slumber.
4 Behold, He who keeps Israel
Will neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The Lord is your keeper;
The Lord is your shade on your right hand.
6 The sun will not smite you by day,
Nor the moon by night.
7 The Lord will protect you from all evil;
He will keep your soul.
8 The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in
From this time forth and forever.
— Psalm 121 (NASB)
Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.
— Galatians 6:9 (NASB)

I know life can be overwhelming, but God is not overwhelmed by it. We've heard it before, but I need to hear it again. Peter walked on water, though the stormy waves raged all around, as long as he kept his eyes on Jesus. If you are down and out by life, look up. Jesus will always meet you exactly where you are at. 

Remember, we are all together in this valley. 

 

Deep Waters

Summer weather always makes me long for the beach, or at least somewhere near the water. What is it about water that fascinates us so? I know for me, some of it may be the lovely pictures I come across in magazines of quaint sea side cottages decorated with lovely reminders of the vast ocean just outside the door. Water has a therapeutic effect. I love to sit near it, watching the waves rolling in or listening to the rush of foam hitting the shore. 

 Photo credit  Rebecca Trumbull

Photo credit Rebecca Trumbull

Water can also be frightening. It can cause catastrophic flooding and overwhelm the largest ocean going vessels. We all desire safe harbor, but sometimes God has something very different in mind. Once in a while He will cut the lines that tether us to the shore and set us on a sea that would scare the bravest and most seasoned sailor. 

 Pixabay

Pixabay

Oswald Chambers states it perfectly:

If you yourself do not cut the lines that tie you to the dock, God will have to use a storm to sever them and send you out to sea...If you believe in Jesus, you are not to spend all your time in the calm waters, just inside the harbor, full of joy, but always tied to the dock. You have to get out past the harbor and into the great depths of God, and begin to know things for yourself—-begin to have spiritual discernment.”
— My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers

I love word pictures. This picture struck me right between the eyes. I love being in safe harbor. I love to feel at peace and know that life is running smoothly. I like organization, and like many women, I want to feel like I am in control, at least of some aspect of life. For me that is safe. What isn't safe is not knowing where your kids are at three or four in the morning, having pain or illness that can't be diagnosed, losing your job or getting old. These things are all reminders that we have very little in our control. 

I believe that we can become dependent and even prideful of our place in that peaceful harbor. We become fixated on the ropes that are tethering us to the dock believing that it is the ropes that keep our boat safe and secure. That is when the storms come and sever our ties, ripping the very ropes we took pride in and depended upon, from the dock and setting us adrift on an angry,  sea.

 Pixabay

Pixabay

Why would God do that? Why would He take us from that safe place and send us out on a stormy ocean? Doesn't He care about us? Doesn't He know that we are afraid?

Of course He does, but He also knows that you will never grow if you are forever in the safe harbor. He knows every hair on your head, every cell in your body and He knows just exactly what you need. Our journey in this life is about our relationship with Him. It is about letting go of everything we hold dear and clinging to Christ alone. 

I know this is hard. I have experienced the storm and I have felt my strongest ropes (the things I thought were right) torn away from that peaceful dock. I have cowered, terrified, in the bottom of the boat wondering when that monster wave would finally take me under. But always at that darkest and most chaotic moment, I would lift my eyes just a bit over the edge of the boat and I would see Him coming to me on the waves. He would come, climb into my boat and we would ride those stormy seas like a surfer hanging ten! 

Oh yes, my stomach has roiled, just like the sea. My mind has crashed just like those tumultuous waves, but gradually the storm would move away, the waves would soften and the wind would calm. He would take my hand and say,

"Peace, dear lamb. Be still."

He alone can overcome our pride. He alone can ride the storm out with us. He alone can speak peace into our troubled hearts.

Dear ones, don't cling to tightly to those plans you have made, nor those ropes that tether you to the dock. He may be calling you out into deep waters.

Feeling a Little Anxious?

I have always been a bit of a "nervous Nellie". When I was young, the first few days of each new school year were often a challenge. My stomach would get tied up in knots, I'd assume disasters were going to take place as soon as I got on the school bus and I would feel desperately lost until I could connect up with familiar faces. When I went to college I battled home sickness fiercely until I settled in to a new routine with new friends. I still struggle with anxiety before doctor or dentist appointments. I worry over my kids and my grandson.

 Pixabay

Pixabay

Anxiety is prevalent. We pace the floor over scenarios that may never take place. We begin waiting for bad stuff to happen. It seems that as I age, anxiety has once again taken a front seat on life's journey. If we look at the number of people taking anti-anxiety medications I'd say I am not alone. 

Life is stressful. Being married, having kids, working a job can all add stress to life. That stress builds when marriage is hard, children rebel and the job expects you to do the work of three people instead of just one. As if that is not enough to get our fight or flight motor revving, then we find out a parent is severely ill, a friend has died, our hairdresser found a new job and there is a lump where there shouldn't be one. 

I cannot tell you what to do when you feel anxious, because I am not a qualified counselor. As Christians we sometimes throw out verses expecting that they are a miracle cure. If you just think on this verse all your anxiety will melt away. God's word is not Calgon. Some of you may remember those commercials....a frantic woman living a real life, but when the stress is too much she just sinks into a hot tub sized bath full of Calgon bubbles and her cares slip away! If only it was so easy. 

We do have some control over what our minds are thinking. At this point in my life I do not take anti anxiety meds. But that doesn't mean I never will. Many elderly people take anti anxiety medicine to help them, not only feel less anxious, but get to sleep at night. So don't be anti medicine. There are times it is right and good. However, if you are on meds, but still feel mastered by anxiety, work with your clinician to find medicines and counseling that enable you to still live life to the fullest. 

If you are like me and anxiety pops up from time to time, but is not debilitating, often just changing our focus will chase the anxious thoughts away. Here are some ways to redirect our thinking:

1. Scripture - while God's word is not Calgon it is a powerful mind changer. Granted, it is the work of His Holy Spirit in our lives that brings about change, but the Bible is an important tool in that work. These are a few of the Scriptures I ruminate on when I am feeling anxious:

4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! 5 Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near.
6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.
9 The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
— Philippians 4:4-9 (NASB)
3 The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace, Because he trusts in You.
4 “Trust in the Lord forever, For in God the Lord, we have an everlasting Rock.
— Isaiah 26:3-4 (NASB)
Wait for the Lord; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the Lord.
— Psalms 27:14 (NASB)
1 I will bless the Lord at all times;
His praise shall continually be in my mouth.
2 My soul will make its boast in the Lord;
The humble will hear it and rejoice.
3 O magnify the Lord with me,
And let us exalt His name together.
4 I sought the Lord, and He answered me,
And delivered me from all my fears.
5 They looked to Him and were radiant,
And their faces will never be ashamed.
— Psalms 34:1-5 (NASB)
1 I will lift up my eyes to the mountains;
From where shall my help come?
2 My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.
3 He will not allow your foot to slip;
He who keeps you will not slumber.
4 Behold, He who keeps Israel
Will neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The Lord is your keeper;
The Lord is your shade on your right hand.
6 The sun will not smite you by day,
Nor the moon by night.
7 The Lord will protect you from all evil;
He will keep your soul.
8 The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in From this time forth and forever.
— Psalms 121

There are many more scriptures about His peace and His care for us.

2. Think about it - This may sound counter intuitive, but thinking about why we are feeling anxious, might help us to recognize the source or sources of the anxiety and lead us to ways of dealing with it. If I am anxious about an upcoming dental appointment, I usually find that I just need to not think about it until it happens. Life is busy enough I can do that, but if it is a more complex problem like just finding out you have cancer, then it might be better to process that with your spouse, pastor, friend or counselor. Talking about a difficulty can make it easier to bear and make you less anxious. I write, of course. I have journals filled with my anxious thoughts, my prayers to God and my gratitude for all He's done.

riding a bike

3. Get active - Sometimes when you are anxious, the last thing you want to do is do something, but activity can lessen anxiety. Gardening, taking a walk, doing the laundry, mopping the floor and going for a bike ride can all help clear your head and move your anxiety to a back burner. If you really want to blow that anxiety out of the water, put on some good music while you are mopping or baking and dance. Lift your hands up to the One who made you and who gives you the ability to breath and move.

 Pixabay

Pixabay

4. Be thankful - Ann VosKamp's book 1000 Gifts is her discovery of the healing and worshipful effects of gratitude. 

And when I give thanks for the seemingly microscopic, I make a place for God to grow within me.
— Ann VosKamp - One Thousand Gifts

5. Prayer - God's word tells us to "pray without ceasing." I find the more anxious I am the more I need to be in the posture of prayer. That doesn't mean I need to be face down on the floor, although I have assumed that position many times, but my heart and mind need to always be aware that He is near and I can talk to Him at any time. 

The most effective treatment of anxiety I have found is to not dwell there. It is a normal place to visit, as we are fallen humanity so in need of His grace and mercy, but He has provided a way to rise above this flesh we live in, we just have to work it out. Sometimes that means taking a walk, writing in a journal or talking to a friend. Sometimes that means going to a counselor or a clinician and getting medication to help slow that roaring motor inside of you down. If you are not sure how severe your anxiety is, please seek out a professional, either your family practitioner or a counselor as they are better able to determine your health needs. 

If you regularly deal with anxiety, leave me a comment and tell me how you try to curb that feeling in your life. I'd love to hear your input.