Category Archives: Hard times

Not crushed, not in despair, not abandoned, not destroyed

Sometimes all I remember of 2 Corinthians 4:8 is “we are hard pressed on every side,” “perplexed,” “persecuted,” “struck down.”

I groan.

And I know I’m not alone.

Stop for a second and you’ll hear it too… the groaning of the earth as cancer consumes, atrocities fill the news, immorality is celebrated, and injustice prevails.

When it all overwhelms, we question.

I did.

The radio celebrated a powerful, awesome God. On autopilot, I sang along. But the words clashed with my frustration, and I fell silent.

For a moment, I refused to agree.

Instead…

If you’re so great, why don’t you DO SOMETHING?

I sat there, imagining all I would do to end the suffering of children, of the desperate, of God’s people — all I would do to prevent myself and my loved ones from being hurt — if I could.

Please… When will you do something?

I didn’t expect an answer.

But then, the forgotten truth rushed back into my brain, taking my breath away like it hadn’t for a long time.

He did do something. He did exactly what I’m desperate to avoid.

He abandoned glorious comfort.
He took on a body that knew pain.
He suffered injustice.
He gave up His life.

All this, though He didn’t have to.

God… Creator…The Almighty… suffered.
Not as a victim.
Not because He was helpless or powerless — in the wrong place at the wrong time.

But for me. For you.
My God — Jesus Christ — died to save us from the mess that our sin birthed.

And then the worship flowed naturally, because I remembered how worthy He is.

Oh, the privilege of singing to a God who did something. A God who did everything.

Of course, He’s not done yet.

“For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.”

2 Corinthians 5:4

“We know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus.”

2 Corinthians 4:14

innerman

“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.

2 Corinthians 4:8-9

For this “momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.”

2 Corinthians 4:17

The groaning will soon be over.

This is not the end.

(How is God renewing your “inner man” today? How can I pray for you?)

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A reminder of brokenness — Guest post by Gillian Marchenko (and book giveaway!)

I’m delighted to welcome Gillian Marchenko as a guest blogger today!

Whether your life has been touched by a child with special needs or whether you’re simply struggling to accept the gift of brokenness God has given you, you will be blessed and moved by Gillian’s memoir.

Enter to win a copy of Sun Shine Down, the story of Gillian’s daughter Polly, by doing any of the following, then leaving a comment to let me know what you did:

  1. Like Gillian’s facebook page.
  2. Subscribe to Gillian’s blog.
  3. Like my facebook page.
  4. Subscribe to my blog (click “follow” to the right).
  5. Leave a word of encouragement for Gillian below.
  6. (Less conventional, more helpful) Stop for a second and pray for Gillian and her family as she has three speaking engagements this week, including the National MOPS convention this weekend.

The winner’s name will be randomly drawn and announced tomorrow morning.

Now join me as Gillian remembers the importance of brokenness in her life…

 

It’s supposed to rain later today.

My left arm aches.

I broke it in two places, two different times in my childhood, and now sometimes when the weather changes it aches, either up near my shoulder or in my wrist; the places it broke.

The aches remind me of those times; the agony and pain, the fear of being in an emergency room as a child, spending the night for the first time in a hospital, getting attention from classmates and extended family, people signing my cast, ‘Get well soon!’. Me trying to itch the inside of my cast with a hanger, not being able to swim for half of a summer because I couldn’t get my arm wet. Being a bit doped up on the medication to ease the hurt.

My broken arm became my whole world. How could it not be when the pain was great, instant, and overwhelming?

At the time there was no way of knowing that the pain wasn’t going to be my new normal.

For all I knew I could be in that kind of fear and pain for the rest of my life.

I went to the hospital and got help. The excruciating pain eventually turned into a dull ache and then only, a flimsy itch.

Life went back to normal. I was found splashing around in the kiddie pool within eight weeks.

But a dull ache returns now and then.

And I am reminded that at times in my life, I’ve been broken.

Recently I went to four parent-teacher conferences for my kids in two different schools.

I was prepared to discuss each kid, I thought. But when I sat down with Polly’s teacher (who has Down syndrome and stars in my recently published memoir, Sun Shine Down), I was surprised to read that she hadn’t met her goals. After a whole year at school Polly still couldn’t figure out classroom procedures. She struggled with transitions every day.

Polly was cute and everyone loved her, but basically she was still just walking around making messes in class.

And the dull ache, the fact that I had a child with a disability started up again.

Polly’s birth shattered me. I teamed up with Jesus and my husband Sergei to put myself back together, but much like that pesky jigsaw puzzle you’ve almost completed, a few pieces were lost in the mix, and now I walk around with empty spaces.

Most of the time the spaces are used for good.

I have more compassion for others.

I understand grace better.

I relate to others through my brokenness.

And sometimes it feels right.

But there are other times when it still breaks my heart that Polly is behind her peers.

I am OK with Down syndrome.

But there will always be days in my life where the rain will come.

And because I’ve been broken, I will ache sometimes.

It doesn’t mean I love my kids less or that I wish my life was different.

It just aches.

And that’s OK, I think.

Gillian Marchenko is an author and national speaker who lives in Chicago with her husband Sergei and four daughters. Her book, Sun Shine Down, a memoir, published with T. S. Poetry Press in the fall of 2013. She writes and speaks about parenting kids with Down syndrome, faith, depression, imperfection, and adoption. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including Chicago Parent, Thriving Family, Gifted for Leadership, Literary Mama, Today’s Christian Woman, MomSense Magazine, Charlottesville Family, EFCA Today, and the Tri-City Record. Gillian says the world is full of people who seem to have it all together. She speaks for the rest of us.

Buy Sun Shine Down on Amazon, Kindle, or Nook

Follow Gillian and her family at www.gillianmarchenko.com, on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest

Freed in frustration

Stress. Pressure. Struggle. Trials.

Count them all joy? (James 1:2)

I pray against them. Don’t you?

When Jaden has seizures, I pray they will end.

When my bank account is empty, I pray it will be filled.

When my friend suffers, I pray for relief.

When the days ahead look dark, I pray for sunshine.

But this week God gave me just a glimpse of what He’s up to.

MyWays

I opened my kids’ history book in preparation to teach “The Principle of Christian Character” and found one answer to the “why?” we all ask:

“Character” literally means “to stamp and engrave through pressure.” This sums up nicely what God is doing in our lives. God’s plan is to make each person like Him. Romans 8:29 tells us that God has predestined that we are to be conformed into the image of Christ. He is building His character within us, or you might say, He is stamping and engraving upon us His image. In so doing, He often uses pressure.

(America’s Providential History by Dr. Mark A. Beliles & Stephen K. McDowell)

characterblackandwhite

Tullian Tchividjian provided a little more insight for me via Liberate on Moody radio. Let me summarize:

Our trials remove from us what we believe we need most — the very things we think we need to be happy, to survive.

But when God takes those things from us, and our peace and joy go along with them, we discover that they have been our idols.

If we can’t be happy without it, it’s an idol.

God is all about liberating us from our idols. He longs to prove to us that we will have all we need in Him, rather than…

Health, control, success, recognition, appreciation,

Marriage, children, possessions, financial security,

Just one peaceful day…

When I find any of those in jeopardy, my reaction is usually to bemoan my fate.

(And maybe think that God might be able to bring some good from it.)

But praise God for a glimpse of something more:

A realization that…

Free

Our frustrations, our pain, our battles are FULL of purpose!

  • They are stamping and engraving Christ’s character into our lives.
  • They are releasing us from the bondage of idols.
  • They free us to “count it all joy!”

“Count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”

James 1:2-4

___

**Is this a new angle for you too? Would you share any of your insights about being refined?

In over my head: choosing my focus

Some people have serious problems that we rarely hear about; others have less serious issues that are brought to our attention quite frequently.

I’ve spent time pondering this. (Yes. Really.)

I’ve wondered if the Eeyores among us really have more problems than the rest, or if it might have something to do with perspective.

My personal conclusion?

Some people really do have what seems to be an unfair amount of trials heaped upon them.

And I don’t understand that.

But…

Amatteroffocus

If you read my ebook (available for Kindle or Nook) last week, you know that panic and anxiety were a very unwelcome part of my life for a few years and that my focus during those years was crucial in my recovery.

Here I am now, on the other side of that journey, tempted to think I can let up a little with the focus thing.

But the truth is, the deep darkness of fear that threatened to suck the joy out of life has merely changed to a sea of new issues — distractions, stress, busyness, and sure, a few problems.

There is always something…

…something that wants to steal my focus away from God’s goodness, His life-giving Word, and the joy found in His presence.

God’s whisper about focus found it’s way to my heart once more as I finished a chapter of my memoir this weekend. This chapter fills you in on some of the details preceding my panic attacks:

We celebrated the first day of 2010 with a dive off the shore of Fort Liberty. Our friend and instructor, Nick, had discovered a steep underwater cliff laden with bright corals, sponges, seaweed, and tropical fish. It would be our first group dive; so far, Nick had tutored Jarod and me one-on-one, but now that we were becoming more advanced, he was confident the three of us could dive together.

We swam a couple hundred feet into the little bay before we began our descent. Careful to equalize our ears every few feet, we sank lower and lower into the blue. To our right was a jeweled wall — yellow, blue, and purple fish, pink and orange corals, and delicate sea crabs. Above, below, and in every other direction was the deep blue of the sea. Had I been watching our dive on an Imax screen, I would have leaned forward in awe.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I was awed, but as Nick and my husband pushed forward and downward, my heart and mind rebelled. Detachment, uneasiness, and anxiety pressed harder than the weight of the water. I did my best to shake it off — to focus on the breathtaking beauty around me, to avoid being the wimpy one in the trio, but it was no use. I kicked ahead and tapped Jarod. I pointed my thumb up, feeling like a fool, yet desperate to rise to the land I knew.

Back on top of choppy waves, I apologized for messing up the dive. Jarod encouraged me to try again — I would be fine. But, I knew something weird was going on. I swam back to shore and let the guys finish the dive on their own.

As they dove down once more, I shuddered. I would never go back in.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In a matter of hours, my panic began in earnest. If you read Take Courage, you know the diving wasn’t the problem; it was just one more proverbial straw that helped break my back.

But the darkness that I entered paralleled perfectly with that Fort Liberty dive:

My battle was one of the mind. The underwater cliff of Fort Liberty became my reality; I was surrounded by deep, dark blue — enough to overwhelm and defeat me. Only this time, swimming ashore was not an option. There would be no escape, no chickening out of the test. I had been provided with the appropriate gear; the Spirit of God would be my breathing apparatus. This wasn’t a test to the death — though it felt like it. But it was a test of my focus. I could look at the treasure cove on the one side — mining the truth and beauty of God’s Word, or I could feed my fear with the endless blue on every other side.

Today, I am still tempted to stare into the blue. Like I said, it’s not about fear and panic right now… it’s just about the negative. It’s so easy to be Eeyore. But it’s not harmless and certainly not cute — it’s wrong and deadly.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

But I’m reminded…

whatever the depth of all that blue around me, however trivial or heavy it may be,

there is treasure to be found off to the right.

It imparts joy.

It restores the soul.

It renews the mind.

And its beauty is best beheld by those in over their heads.

My new ebook (free PDF this week!) — Take Courage: Choosing faith on my journey of fear

Take-CourageLR

Take Courage: Choosing faith on my journey of fear is a concise, two-part ebook offering hope to those, who like me, have found themselves in the grip of anxiety, adrenal fatigue, and trauma-related issues.

In the first section I share glimpses of eight drama-filled years in Haiti preceding my own personal crisis and in the second I offer insights for making spiritual, mental, and physical choices of courage.

If you are a jenniferebenhack.com blog subscriber, you’ve heard bits and pieces of my story. Download the ebook for the bigger picture!

Find Take Courage: Choosing faith on my journey of fear for your Kindle at amazon.com for $2.99

Or

Sign up for my newsletter and receive the PDF version of Take Courage for free this week!

Send an email to subscribetojenniferebenhack@gmail.com and you will receive the link to download your PDF copy of the ebook!

*If you have not yet subscribed to receive regular blog updates via email, remember to click the “Subscribe” link to the right to do so!

(…But, remember to send me an email at subscribetojenniferebenhack@gmail.com to receive your free PDF!)

Growing weary of the faith walk?

James1

My husband and I have been comparing notes on how sometimes circumstances seem to conspire against us just to prove to us what big babies we are… basically the opposite of James 1:2-4.

Honestly, I rarely consider it pure joy to have my faith tested.

It’s painful realizing how pathetic I can be.

I look back and marvel at all I learned — yesterday, last year, seven years ago…

not to mention dependence through thirty-one years of knowing the Great Provider.

How I wish every lesson had “stuck.”

But far too often, I forget. I forget that God came through… sustained… healed… provided.

I look at circumstances, look at tomorrow, throw my hands onto my head and wail, “Oh no, what are we going to do?”

I am “of little faith” just like the Israelites in the desert and Peter walking on the waves.

Sometimes I grow weary of trust — being dependent on Him for everything. I grow tired of constantly needing help, needing guidance, needing to be taught.

I prefer control.

I’d rather teach than learn. I’d like to dust my hands off and say, “Well, that was challenging, but well worth it. Now, let me help you out!”

But the minute I let myself think I’ve “arrived,” I stumble over my own immaturity. In trying so hard to know it all, I find myself wallowing in even deeper neediness.

It’s far from enjoyable — being needy, learning, learning, learning.

It’s humbling. It’s uncomfortable, even frightening. I long to be competent.

But then I would miss the whole thing — the whole point of my walk with Jesus:

My neediness and His sufficiency.

“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick… For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Matthew 9:12 NIV
I’m a sick, needy sinner.

“Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us…”
Titus 3:5 NKJV
I couldn’t save myself.

“And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”
Philippians 4:19 NASB
All my provision comes from Him.

“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… For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

2 Corinthians 12:9-10

My strength comes from Him.

So again, I acknowledge that I need Jesus… desperately.

I may have learned much in the past, but I admit that I need to learn again today.

Circumstances will continue to conspire against me (under God’s watchful, sovereign eye), reminding me that I am needy; but, I as I confess my weakness, I embrace His power.

Through Him, I can “count it all joy.” I can be made “mature and complete.”

________

Are you having a difficult time counting it all joy? What are you learning about trusting God?

“I was the lion” — When God doesn’t show up

If only God would show up…

… when we’re scared to death.
… when sickness hits.
… when our hearts are breaking.
… when ends won’t meet.
… when we’re alone.

… when everything is as wrong as it could possibly be.

DCF 1.0

From The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis:

“I can’t see you at all,” said Shasta, after staring very hard. Then (for an even more terrifying idea had come into his head) he said, almost in a scream, “You’re not – not something dead, are you? Oh please – please do go away. What harm have I ever done you? Oh, I am the unluckiest person in the whole world!”

Once more he felt the warm breath of the Thing on his hand and face.

“There,” it said, “that is not the breath of a ghost. Tell me your sorrows.”

Shasta was a little reassured by the breath: so he told how he had never known his real father or mother and had been brought up sternly by the fisherman. And then he told the story of his escape and how they were chased by lions and forced to swim for their lives; and of all their dangers in Tashbaan and about his night among the tombs and how the beasts howled at him out of the desert. And he told about the heat and thirst of their desert journey and how they were almost at their goal when another lion chased them and wounded Aravis. And also, how very long it was since he had had anything to eat.

“I do not call you unfortunate,” said the Large Voice.

“Don’t you think it was bad luck to meet so many lions?” said Shasta.

“There was only one lion,” said the Voice.

“What on earth do you mean? I’ve just told you there were at least two the first night, and – ”

“There was only one: but he was swift of foot.”

“How do you know?”

“I was the lion.” And as Shasta gaped with open mouth and said nothing, the Voice continued. “I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept. I was the lion who gave the horses the new strength of fear for the last mile so that you should reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.”

_____

We are so confident in our judgments. We find it so easy to declare “good” and “bad,” “fortunate” and “unfortunate.” Yet we have no idea the painstaking precision with which our steps are guided.

Though all is dark, though we don’t feel His presence, He is here. He writes every word in the story of our lives — beautifully, sovereignly working good through all that our enemy intends for evil.

Romans828

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?

Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?

… No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation,

will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:35, 37-39

What if the “lions” we cower from are all “One Lion”… One who is working for our good?

Will we trust Him?

So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.

You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.

For in just a very little while, “He who is coming will come and will not delay. But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.”

But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

Hebrews 10:35-11:1

Though it’s hard to recognize, He is showing up. He is working… for our good.

**In what “unfortunate” events have you seen God work in your life?

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