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A Hope Deferred

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At 38 weeks and 6 days I felt anxious to see my baby. Although most women don’t feel overdue until after their 40th week, this was my fourth child and in the three previous pregnancies the baby had come at 38 weeks. I had never made it to my due date in the past. So although I wasn’t even close to being “technically” past due, I felt that my due date had come and gone. And isn’t that what it all comes down to: experience and expectation?

My experience with pregnancy had told me that I should have a newborn at that point. The sleepless nights I experienced should have been due to middle of the night feedings instead of frequent trips to the restroom. The aches and pains were supposed to be those of recent delivery, and not the seemingly ceaseless contractions I was experiencing.

Experience and expectation had let me down. I was left, floating along, knowing that the outcome would be the same, but somehow different. I would still have a newborn child, but the situation was one I had not anticipated. What if I went past my actual due date? The waiting was unforeseen.

Six days might not seem like a lot of difference to some, but each one had passed with a thud for me. Each day was full of moments that caused me to think, Is that a sign that it’s time? Is something wrong? Should I be doing more to make it happen?

Not only was I left with a sense of frustration that things hadn’t worked out how I thought they would, I somehow felt like a failure. Like if I would have tried harder my experience and expectations would have been realized.

Something inside me whispered that this had to do with more than my eagerness to see my unborn child and be done with the discomfort of pregnancy.

Heartsick

We all have hopes of what God will do in our life. Many times these hopes and dreams are based on our previous experience of God and expectations of what He will do in our future.

I had hopes of seeing my newborn son by a certain date. I have other hopes though, relating to the future of my marriage, my ministry, my children’s lives and more. God doesn’t always play by our rules, in our timeframe, according to our expectations.

Proverbs 13:12 says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” That word deferred, it means in Hebrew to draw out, prolong, continue or to drag along. Here we go, trudging along our way, dragging our little bag of hopes behind us. It can weigh you down, wear on your spirit, and weaken your heart.

As silly as it sounds, I sometimes had the thought that my son would never come out. What if he stayed in there forever? Logically, I knew that this couldn’t happen, but there were moments when I felt that this was how it would be for eternity.

How much easier is it to believe that about other hopes we carry? My spouse will never change. That career I seek will never come. The spiritual growth I desire will never reach fruition in me. People laughed at me when I said I was stuck in the Never-ending Pregnancy, but how many people do we know who feel the same way about an area of their life? We don’t laugh at them, because we have those same fears.

How Long, Oh Lord?

David had those fears. In the Psalms there are numerous times where he cries out to God in frustration.

About physical needs:

Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am pining away; heal me, Oh Lord, for my bones are dismayed. And my soul is greatly dismayed; but You, O Lord, “How long?” (Psalm 6:2-3)

About spiritual needs:

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

About relational needs:

Lord, how long will You look on? Rescue my soul from their ravages, my only life from the lions. (Psalm 35:17)

Just like a child on a car trip with a parent, David wasn’t afraid to ask God, “How much longer? Are we there yet?”

Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar

It’s interesting the reactions people have when we voice our frustrations. Job was met with various reactions from his friends. Eliphaz told him that the innocent do not suffer and God is just. Bildad said God rewards the good. Zophar chose to rebuke Job for his words of frustration.

In my frustration with the timing of my son’s birth, I also experienced the full spectrum of responses. Some people felt it their duty to question my desires and impatience: “Don’t you want him to be healthy? You’re not even at your due date yet.” It’s like my eagerness to meet my son and be done with pregnancy offended them. This same reaction occurs with other hopes: “Don’t you want God’s timing and not your own? You should only desire His will for your life.”

Some offered advice and their own experience: “Drink castor oil. Eat spicy food. Walk. This worked for me.” Many times those people were being helpful, but sometimes it caused me to feel like it was a lack of trying on my part that had kept me in my present condition. Again, this correlates: “Are you praying about it? Fasting? Have you sought out God’s will for the situation?” All helpful suggestions, but usually when someone is heartsick they’ve tried everything they can.

Some reminded me that it could be worse: “At least you can get pregnant. Some woman would love to be feeling your discomfort.” I’m not negating the fact that I was blessed to be able to carry a healthy baby to term. However, the reminder that others have it worse than I do is only meant to make me feel guilty. There’s always someone who has it worse, that doesn’t mean that we’ll never get frustrated with our relationships, job, or situation in life.

Lastly, some expressed sympathy: “I’ve been there. This is a hard time. You’ll get through it. Hang in there.” Those words offered the most comfort. I was not alone. I could make it through.

Three days later, at 39 weeks and one day, my son Silas was born! Looking back now, six months later, those three days seem so small and insignificant. Isn’t that how it is with all our seasons of hoping and waiting? Once we’re out of the holding period, we forget the heartsickness of waiting.

We’ve all been on both sides of this situation. I know that I’ve been an Eliphaz, Bildad, and even Zophar to others going through a period of waiting. I’ve criticized, I’ve advised, and I’ve rebuked. As well-meaning as our intentions are in our responses to those feeling a hope deferred, the best option is to default to being what Job’s friends weren’t: an encourager.

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Melissa Brotherton lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, Josh, and their four children: Elijah, Cora, Ezra, and Silas. In 2011, after returning from five years living in Southern California, Melissa stepped in to the position of children’s pastor and community life pastor at their new church. Although she currently finds herself in a place she never thought she’d be, God reminds her to continue to abide in Him. To wait, to rest, to trust. She writes about this and more on her personal blog, melissabrotherton.com. You can also find her on Twitter @melissa_rae

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When Doing Justly, Loving Mercy, and Walking Humbly Stand at Odds

If your compassion far exceeds your capacity, here’s one way you can be sure to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly.

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One of my life verses is Micah 6:8, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

It is one of my favorite verses because my heart has been so moved by the love Jesus has for me and the sacrifice He made for me that I am grateful to have a way to express my gratitude through acts of justice and mercy while walking humbly with God.

I have found at times, however, the call to do justice and love mercy come in conflict with the call to walk humbly with God. For me, one of the ways to walk humbly with God is to recognize my limitations. I have to put skin to the fact that I am not God which means saying, “no” to ministry requests. It means going to sleep when I could be spending time advocating for the harrowed and helpless in the world. It means limited seats at my table, limited funds in my bank account, and limited energy in my body cannot be ignored but respected and adhered to.

This is hard for me at times, especially when I scroll my Facebook feed and see friends who are caring for their really sick children, spouse, or other family member all while millions of refugees flee war torn countries and babies are slaughtered by the hundreds each day in our country through the abortion industry.

As I scroll, I receive texts about one family member’s surgery gone wrong and another family member announcing a new baby is on the way. I have in mind my neighbor who has inpatient surgery scheduled this week and another neighbor who is trying to hold down a full-time job, care for twins all while battling profound “morning” sickness.

Folks at church are fighting for their lives in physical and spiritual ways, and strangers who pass me on the road are clearly battling something as demonstrated by their impatient honking because I won’t take a right turn on red. I want to meet the needs of all; I want to do justice and love mercy, but I’m daily confronted by the fact that I am so limited.

What am I to do when doing justly and/or loving mercy seem to come in conflict with walking humbly with my God?

God keeps bringing me to this answer: prayer.

God invites us to cast our cares before Him because He cares for us.
God tells us to be anxious for nothing BUT WITH PRAYER present our requests before Him.
God commands us to pray without ceasing.

And, when I walk humbly with God, I see the immense kindness in His command.
He gives us a way to do justly, love mercy WHILE walking humbly with Him.
It is by praying without ceasing.

I cannot take a meal or give money to every sick person or family I know. I cannot extend kindness to all my neighbors all at the same time they’re in need nor conjure up sustainable solutions for the refugee crisis and contact all the necessary world powers to make it happen.

I cannot heal all, but I know the Healer.

I cannot provide for all the needs, but I know the Provider.

I cannot rescue everyone in need, but I know the Rescuer.

I cannot comfort all the broken, but I know the Comforter.

I cannot speak peace over every situation, but I know the Prince of Peace.

I cannot be all to all, but I can go to the Great I Am through prayer, lay all the people, problems and pleas for help before the Omniscient and Omnipresent God of all Creation.

I can do this through prayer.

Recently, via an Instagram contest of all things, I came upon A–Z prayer cards designed by blogger/author/speaker, Amelia Rhodes. It is a simple concept packed with a powerful prayer punch. It has served me personally in this tension of wanting to do far more than I practically can do. It provides prayer prompts starting with each letter of the alphabet along with a scripture that coincides with the prayer focus. It ranges from Adoption to a creative “Zero Prejudice” for the letter “Z.”

The cards are well thought out, color printed on sturdy cardstock with blank lines for the user to write in the names of people and/or organizations that are personal to them.

If, like me, your compassion far exceeds your capacity, pick up a set of these prayer cards and unload your burdens onto a God whose competence matches His kindness, both boundless.

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Facing Our Fears in Motherhood

Do you have fears tied to motherhood? If so, here’s encouragement for you.

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“Are you scared?”

I was taken aback by his question. Scared? Of what?

“Of anything,” he answered.

I had just shared my due date with a new class of trainees.

“He has three boys,” another new hire volunteered. So fear is to be expected, I reasoned. I’m just about to face the most frightening experience in my life.

Of course I was scared.

I was scared…

  • I’ll lose my temper.
  • I’ll whine about sleepless nights.
  • I’ll breastfeed too often or not often enough.
  • I’ll leave piles of unfolded onesies in the middle of the nursery floor because I’m too tired (or lazy?) to fold teeny-tiny baby clothes for the upteenth time.
  • I’ll go with disposable diapers when the better choice would be cloth.
  • I’ll work too many long hours at the office and miss precious moments with her.
  • I’ll sign her up for too many activities and push her to become Miss Achieve-It-All.
  • I’ll pass on to her my ugly pride, self-righteousness, and perfectionism like a dreadful contagious disease.
  • I’ll miss countless little joys in life while pursuing worthless dreams.

Facing Our Fears in MotherhoodIn short… I was afraid I was going to fail miserably as a parent.

And now, holding my second-born daughter in my arms, thinking back on that brief exchange just a few years ago, I realize those fears were well-founded. I’ve failed many times. I’ve lost my temper. I’ve raised my voice. I’ve worked too much and played too little. I’ve seen my own sinfulness reflected in my daughter.

Yes, I’ve failed, but over and above it all, God’s grace has covered my parenting imperfections and made me run to the cross day after day. The writer of Proverbs puts it this way:

Whoever fears the LORD has a secure fortress, and for their children it will be a refuge.
Proverbs 14:26

When it comes to fears, we have two choices: Will we fear the unknown or will we fear the Lord? Will we allow the uncertain to grip us in its clutch or will we turn to God’s Truth to set us free?

Scared? Oh yeah. There was so much to be scared of that day. And even now, if I’m completely honest, there are still fears nibbling at the edges of my consciousness. Fear that we won’t outgrow the temper tantrums. Fear that the two girls won’t get along. Fear that I’ll mess them up and cause them interminable hours on a psychologist’s couch.

I’m sure you have fears, too.

But rather than allow those fears to consume and paralyze us, we can take them to the Lord, acknowledging His sovereignty over our parenting, pleading His grace over our mistakes, and entrusting His provision over their futures. He is not only able to handle it all — He is far more capable to be trusted with it all.

If I say one thing to that frightened 9-month-pregnant me standing in that room years ago, I would say this: Don’t let fear rob today’s joy with tomorrow’s unknowns. Each day has enough worries of its own (Matthew 6:34).

Instead, let us keep seeking God, running to Him as our secure fortress and resting in the knowledge that He will care for us and our children one day at a time.

What are you scared of today? Name your fears and bring them to the Lord, allowing Him to replace them with His peace that passes all understanding.

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He Gives Shade To The Weary

If anxiety is a struggle for you right now, remember that He gives shade to the weary.

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Do you ever have those moments of fear because you don’t know what lies ahead? When do those thoughts tend to happen to you?

For me, most of those thoughts happen when I lay my head down to sleep at night. The vulnerability comes forth every time. That’s what happened the other night to me. I shut my eyes and immediately anxiety welled up inside me.

What if we don’t succeed in this new venture? What if we have to move? What if we can’t pay our bills?

I laid there with the covers drawn tight over my head (I still think that I am safer if the covers are over my head), praying scripture over my anxious heart. Assuring myself that God sees me and that He cares.

In the morning, I turned to Isaiah 41, specifically verses 10-20.

“Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10, NASB)

Yesterday, the “what if’s” piled up as I anxiously looked about me. My daughter needs tutoring, however at this point in life, tutoring feels like a luxury we can’t afford. So I listed some items online to sell hoping to make just enough to cover the tutoring. I’m buying groceries on a Visa reward card. I’m holding my breath until the next paycheck comes. But what did God speak over me: Do not fear. Do not look anxiously about you.

“For I am the Lord your God, who upholds your right hand, Who says to you, ‘Do not fear, I will help you.’ Do not fear, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel; I will help you,” declares the Lord, “and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 41:13-14 NASB)

Why shouldn’t I be anxious? Because God will hold me up. God will help me. When I first read the word “worm” as a description, I took it as a slam against Israel. Like, gesh, God. What animal does He relate me to? But through further study, He calls them a worm because worms are helpless. They are viewed as insignificant, despised and weak. God will help me — seemingly insignificant, helpless me — because He is my Redeemer. He is my go’el — my next of kin. The Redeemer is the one who provides for all my needs. Rent. Car payment. Credit card bill. Gas. Food. Clothes. Debt. God will redeem.

He Gives Shade to the Weary

“Behold, I have made you a new, sharp threshing sledge with double edges; You will thresh the mountains and pulverize them, And will make the hills like chaff. You will winnow them, and the wind will carry them away, And the storm will scatter them; But you will rejoice in the Lord, You will glory in the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 41:15-16 NASB).

God is transforming me from a helpless one to a powerful one. The description of that type of threshing sledge is like a modern day earth mover. Powerful. Strong. Immovable.

“The afflicted and needy are seeking water, but there is none, And their tongue is parched with thirst; I, the Lord, will answer them Myself, As the God of Israel I will not forsake them.” (Isaiah 41:17, NASB)

He will come to our rescue. God, Himself, will answer you and me. Can you hear how personal that sounds? Have you ever pleaded with someone important whether your boss, public figure, or even a parent, and they responded to the need themselves? You expected for them to send their assistant, but instead they — the most important one — responded to you.

“I will open rivers on the bare heights And springs in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water And the dry land fountains of water. I will put the cedar in the wilderness, The acacia and the myrtle and the olive tree; I will place the juniper in the desert Together with the box tree and the cypress.” (Isaiah 41:18-19, NASB)

This passage describes the wilderness-like times in life. You are barren. You are thirsty. You are hot. You are in need. God will provide what you need. God will quench your thirst. He will provide shade when you are weary. During those times, God can provide in creative, innovative ways. He can provide something out of nothing. Doesn’t that give you great hope? Even when you can’t answer how He will do it, He is creative enough to figure it out even when the odds are stacked against you.

“That they may see and recognize, And consider and gain insight as well, That the hand of the Lord has done this, And the Holy One of Israel has created it.” (Isaiah 41:20 NASB).

God will do all of this so that His glory will be put on display. People — including yourself — will see that He is powerful.

So you can see how after a night of wrestling with fear and anxiety, reading this was like shade and water for my soul. God is a god who sees. And God is a god who acts on your behalf.

What do you need His help with today? What are you fearful about today? What keeps you awake at night? Where do you need some shade?

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A Hope Deferred

by Melissa Brotherton time to read: 5 min
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