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. 

 

Walking with the Psalmist

Psalm 13 is a song of David, and a prayer for help in trouble. What I love about the psalms of David are the parallels to my own emotional ups and downs. Let's dive in.

1 How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever?
How long will You hide Your face from me?
2 How long shall I take counsel in my soul,
Having sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long will my enemy be exalted over me?
— Psalm 13:1-2 (NASB)
 Pixabay

Pixabay

Do you ever feel like David? Do you ever wonder where God is? Does it seem as though He has forgotten you or is hiding His face from you? Have you ever felt like you are the only person you can trust? Do you ever have days where all you can feel is sorrow, or maybe you feel nothing at all, simply numb? Have you felt as though a very real, but unseen enemy is out to get you? Or maybe your enemy is something or someone real, like cancer, a hard nosed boss or a bully. 

I have felt this way. The truth is, I think most of us have felt pretty much alone at some point or other in our lives. Sometimes, we carry burdens that we cannot share, which make us feel very alone and like the psalmist we cry out to God, "Where are you?"

3 Consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
Enlighten my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death,
4 And my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
And my adversaries will rejoice when I am shaken.
— Psalm 13:3-4 (NASB)
 Pixabay

Pixabay

The psalmist asks God to consider his situation. David spent a good portion of his adult life running and hiding from his enemies. I'm pretty sure this song was born out of the frustration and exhaustion of not being able to live a normal life. 

You are probably familiar with the phrase, the new normal. Most often this phrase is used by someone who has encountered a major life change, either a job loss, loss of a loved one, physical limitation or other difficulty that makes life different than it used to be. I used to be able to eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. I can't do that anymore. Now life is made up of looking at food labels, cutting my food in half so I don't eat too much and cutting out things I used to enjoy like donuts and ice cream. This is the new normal. 

I do not see anything wrong with asking God to consider us. We are His creation. Consider these verses:

Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap; they have no storeroom nor barn, and yet God feeds them; how much more valuable you are than the birds!
— Luke 12:24 (NASB)
 Pixabay

Pixabay

Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; but I tell you, not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these.
— Luke 12:27 (NASB)
 Photo credit  Rebecca Trumbull

Photo credit Rebecca Trumbull

The one who has every hair on our heads numbered can most certainly be bothered to consider us, when we cry out to Him. 

I think the psalmist was also praying for wisdom, or maybe he was just asking God to help him stay awake and keep vigilant watch for his enemies, lest they overcome him and he sleep the sleep of death. Either way we can ask God for help, whether it be for wisdom, or for physical strength. 

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.
— Psalm 121:1-2 (NASB)
I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.
— Philippians 4:13 (NASB)
But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him
— James 1:5 (NASB)

The last section of Psalm 13 is the upward swing.

5 But I have trusted in Your lovingkindness;
My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.
6 I will sing to the Lord,
Because He has dealt bountifully with me.
— Psalm 13:5-6
 Pixabay

Pixabay

There are four actions the psalmist does at the end of this song.

1. He remembers. He is speaking in the past tense, remembering other times the Lord has been faithful.

2. He trusts. He trusted in the Lord's lovingkindness in the past, and no doubt, will do so again. 

3. He rejoices. His heart rejoices in the Lord's salvation. We can derive from this statement, the psalmist has seen the Lord's salvation before. 

4. He sings. What a beautiful ending to a song that starts out at a rather low point. He can sing, because the Lord has dealt bountifully with him. 

What does this mean for you and I? First, I believe it is okay to ask God the tough questions. Where are you, God? How long will you keep quiet and not answer me? How long am I going to have to suffer? When will your deliverance come? God knows our frame. He also knows we don't see the whole picture, so I truly believe He understands and has compassion when we come to Him with our ceaseless questioning. Think about the many times your children or grandchildren come to you asking, why or when? Do you yell at them and tell them to be quiet? (Well, maybe once in a while, ha, ha). More often we answer with kindness and love. 

Secondly, I believe it is also alright to let God know we are at the end of ourselves. Consider and answer me, Lord, is a cry for help and reassurance, not a fist raised in defiance. God knows we hurt, sometimes in the deepest places of our being. There are people who suffer physically with pain we can't even imagine. There are people who hurt mentally or emotionally because of what others have done to them or to their family members. God knows our innermost hurts and struggles. 

Finally, I think the key is to follow the psalmist's example and not stay in that mindset of discouragement. Like him we need to choose to remember what God has done for us. We need to trust in the God whose lovingkindness is everlasting. We can rejoice in His salvation. Not only has He saved us from sin through His son Jesus Christ, but He has saved us from difficulties we cannot begin to imagine. Lastly, sing! Sing like no one is listening. Sing to bring the house down. If it is an age old hymn sing it with gusto. If it is singing along to your favorite Christian band, turn up the volume. 

Following David in his pattern of questioning, admitting and rejoicing we will be able to overcome. 

Introvert? Yup!

Hi! My name is Amy and I am an introvert! Are you surprised? Maybe you are an introvert as well. You might be wondering how and why an introvert would have a fashion and faith blog. The faith part of it is a little easier to swallow, at least no one is looking at you. Fashion, however? How do I manage to stand in front of a camera, posing and smiling and not feel like a fake? Believe me, I often do feel that way. 

Hiking - Mohican State Park

I have been an introvert for as long as I can remember. Here is how Webster's online dictionary defines the word:

...one whose personality is characterized by introversion; especially : a reserved or shy person who enjoys spending time alone
 Pixabay

Pixabay

I can remember as a child often hiding behind my mother when people would talk to me. My mother would often push me from out behind her to make me visible to whomever was addressing me. I didn't like people to notice me or talk about me. It is unknown to me why some of us are introverts and some of us are extroverts, though I am confident it is due to God making us one way or the other. I'm sure there have been all sorts of studies and articles on the differences between introverts and extroverts. Here are a few to look at: 

23 Signs You're Secretly an Introvert

What is an Introvert?

While the truth is, one personality type is not better than the other, as an introvert I have often felt the scorn of others because of my shyness. I have been called stuck up, aloof, a prude and other descriptive words that were not kind. I have also skulked away from a conversation or a social situation because my voiced opinions were laughed at, cut down or ignored. I have felt the icy coldness of what I call being invisible

Pixabay - invisible

As an introvert I struggle with the dichotomy of wanting to crawl under a rock and wanting to be noticed and remembered. It is an odd place to stand, as though I am permanently on a tight rope walking between two cliffs. On one side are roaring lions and on the other side are stomping dinosaurs. 

The reality is, I am not stuck up. I struggle socially. It is hard for me to make small talk, especially with people I don't know. When I go to a gathering, even with family, I am often overwhelmed. I am most comfortable in my home with a good book or an escapist type movie. That doesn't mean I don't want friends. It doesn't mean that I don't want to be with other people. It just means that I need more time to think, and refuel. 

Being an introvert who also struggles with Seasonal Affective Disorder is a further conundrum. Not only do I have the normal need for alone time, I also struggle with feeling alone, especially when it is dark and cold. Not only do I need more time to process, I have a harder time with the processing...and cravings for chocolate cake! 

By now you might be wondering what the point of this little post is. My goal is three-fold:

1. To make you aware.

Introverted people are not cold, aloof or mean, they are simply different. They have emotions and feelings that run just as deep as extroverts. They love deeply, worry deeply and might just make fantastic friends. Instead of judging a person to be this or that, try getting to know them. If you see that person standing alone at a party, go introduce yourself and ask lots of questions. Usually, an introvert is just as pleased to talk about themselves and give their opinions as the next person, they just need a little help. Also be understanding if they just want to stay home and read a book rather than go to that concert or other outing with a bunch of friends. Most of us introverts are more one on one or small group types of people. 

2. To remind you.

God created you. He meant for you to be just exactly who you are. I have found that being an introvert often pushes me towards God as i struggle to find my place in a very social world. It has also helped me to be more in tune to His voice when I have alone time. No matter if you are an introvert, an extrovert or somewhere in between, God made you exactly as He wants you to be. I can praise the Creator because:

I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, And my soul knows it very well.
— Psalm 139:14 (NASB)

 

3. To encourage you.

I can do all things through Him who strengthens me
— Philippians 4:13 (NASB)

We all have our struggles, but with Christ we are able to do anything. Christ has been my strength when I don't want to go to that social gathering, or start that conversation with my fellow employee, or network with those people at the coffee shop, or put myself out there, when I really would rather find a warm hole to crawl into. He is always there, ready and willing, to help me step out and up.

Confession Time

There are days when I am working on this blog that I feel pretty good about what I'm putting out there. Most days, however, I feel pretty overwhelmed. I thought, why not share with all of you some of my struggles. After all, aren't we in this together? Maybe you are a blogger also. What made you start your blog? Was it your fantastic body of knowledge and information; knowledge that you wanted to share with anyone who would listen? Maybe it was your desire to help others. That is always an honorable reason. Or maybe you are like me. Maybe you've been through some things. Maybe you have felt feelings you never thought you would feel, or have experienced hurts so deep you didn't think you would survive. But here you are! You have survived, and now you feel, maybe something that you went through might make a difference for someone else. I mean, wouldn't all of it be worthwhile if it made a difference in some other person's life?

 Photo credit -  Rebecca Trumbull

Photo credit - Rebecca Trumbull

What if it doesn't? What if we never have one word back of encouragement or positivity about what we are doing? What if no one ever thanks us or says, "Wow! I really needed to hear that today," or "You gave me such good ideas about what to do with that sweater in my closet." I'm human. Of course I want to hear those things. I want to know that all the writing, thinking, rummaging through my closet to create outfits is actually worth while. This is not a plea for you to pat me on the back and tell me what a good job I am doing...although you could comment in the comments section below....ha, ha!  No, this is more a confession that I do not have it all together! 

When I read other blogs, I think, "Oh my goodness! How do they do it all? They work jobs, have families, make money on their blogs, network, write for e-zines and journals, have already published a book...." Well, you get what I'm saying. They do it all and look amazing while they are doing it. That is not me. You might think I have it all together, but I don't. I struggle more often than not with why I am even doing a blog. Aren't there a zillion other good writers out there? Aren't there a zillion and one beautiful fashion bloggers, who already have thousands of subscribers? How is my one little voice and my one little opinion going to make a difference?

I'll tell you how....one person at a time. 

When Jesus walked the shores of Galilee, he spent most of his time with a small group of men who became his closest companions and followers. While Jesus did his fair share of teaching to large crowds, his most memorable encounters were with individuals. Think about the woman at the well, the man with leprosy, the blind man, the lame man, the boy with the loaves and fishes. Each of these individuals was personally influenced and touched by Jesus. Jesus never worried about how many people he was getting his message out to. He lived to do His Father's will and to glorify Him. 

 StockSnap -  Zukiman Mohamad

StockSnap - Zukiman Mohamad

If you are like me you have a passion to write. You may even believe that God has given you both the ability and the desire. If that is the case all that is left is obedience. I truly want to glorify God. Do I always do it? No. But it is my heart's desire. Would I also like to make a living writing? Oh yeah! Would I also like to know that the message I am writing makes a difference? Yes, of course. But, when the doubts come and I want to give up, it is not my desire to make a difference or my message that keeps me going it is obedience. I want to stand before God one day and hear Him say, "Well done!"

Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men
— Colossians 3:23 (NASB)

I love that verse and often find myself repeating it. Whatever you do, whether it be chores in your home, taking care of kids, grandkids or aging parents,  your tasks at work, writing a blog post or taking pictures, remember who you are doing it for. Yes, making a difference is awesome, but the reason we do what we do is for Him. 

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)

God knew we would get weary. Doing good can be hard work. It can be long hours, mentally and emotionally exhausting and thankless. He knew this, but He knows the end result. He knows that one person who came to Him because you posted your testimony. He knows that one lady who saw your article on dressing for work and got a job because she followed your advice. He knows that struggling wife who decided to start praying for her husband because of what you shared about your own marital struggles. He knows in due time you will reap the beautiful and bountiful harvest if you don't lose heart. 

 StockSnap -  Ray Hennessy

StockSnap - Ray Hennessy

Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth
Does not become weary or tired.
His understanding is inscrutable.
He gives strength to the weary,
And to him who lacks might He increases power.
Though youths grow weary and tired,
And vigorous young men stumble badly,
Yet those who wait for the Lord
Will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary.
— Isaiah 40:28-31 (NASB)

Another of my favorite passages! Even if we are weary and tired and thinking we should chuck it all out the window, whether it be blogging, parenting, being a spouse, a friend or a worker, He does not grow weary and He will give us strength.