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A Hard Year’s Nights

It all started when both my sister-in-law and my husband’s grandmother got themselves hospitalized for serious illnesses in the same week. Just when they both were healthy enough to go home, my husband found out that the six months left on his contract marked the end of his time at a company we both cared about deeply. Then when our daughter was born, I suffered from post-partum anxiety, the baby ended up back in the hospital, and we decided that the personality difficulties in my workplace made it intolerable enough for me to leave my job, too. On our way to Colorado to move in with family and start over, someone stole one of our cars from a hotel parking lot in Las Vegas.

That’s the last 15 months in a nutshell. I don’t share them to highlight our difficulties. After all, so many have suffered so much over the last few years. I’m sure this is true of any few years, though the details of the economic season we’re currently in have meant that so many people I know are going through a difficult time right now.

No, I don’t share because I want pity, but because I want to say this: in all of our struggles, disappointments, failures, and losses, I’m learning how to endure. It’s not something I excel at. I have days that might cause someone looking in from the outside to wonder at my overall sanity, but I’ve come a long way. Here are some of the things that have worked for me. For those who are also in a hard season, my prayer is that these words will offer aid and respite as the journey continues.

Make Space

Anytime things are hard, there’s cognitive, emotional, and spiritual processing that needs to be done. I know that I need to grieve my losses, whether I lose job, an income, a person, someone’s health, or something harder to pin down. And grieving takes space.

The last thing I wanted to do when I found out my husband’s company wouldn’t renew his contract was to think about that, to ponder it, and to let out the feelings that came up. In fact, my deepest desire was to run and hide, to cover my grief in the preparations for Christmas and then for our baby. But my deepest need was to grieve.

I went on maternity leave 10 days after we got the news and my life slowed down. Those days felt almost like coming to a screeching standstill after months of cruising down the freeway going 80, but it was exactly what I needed.

Over the several weeks before my daughter was born, I journaled and read and cried. I talked to dear friends, who asked good questions and listened to the answers and helped me figure out where I was at. I took long walks, where I could start to put our future into a new perspective.

As the losses have mounted this year, I’ve continued to take time away. Stepping out of life can feel impossible, especially when circumstances are stressful and taking time out means doing more in less time later. Even little bits of space have helped me grieve what we’ve lost, though. When I’m not carrying those emotions everywhere I go, I can keep going because I don’t bear so heavy a load.

Accept Limits

Life is stressful, and going through a difficult time is especially so. When I’m stressed, I can’t do as much. I can’t take on as much, I can’t get out of the house as much, and I don’t even have as much space in my soul to listen to others and hold them in their own difficulties.

As someone who loves doing things, who likes to leave home at least once a day, and who carries a deep value for close relationships and helping friends in need, these limits are hard. But when I fight them, I only create more stress for myself in a time when I especially need to curtail that as much as possible.

Accepting my own limits is easier to talk about than it is to do, though. It’s hard for me to turn down a chance to help someone out, to spend time with a friend, or to stay away from people who are going to ask things from me emotionally that I don’t have to give right now. It hurts, it feels like failure, and I wish it was different.

Wishing does not make something so, though. When I close my eyes and gain a larger perspective on the situation, I think about how long we’ve endured and all the different surprises that have popped up on the way, and my limits make sense. I’m not functioning at an optimal capacity. That’s OK, it’s normal, and there’s nothing wrong with me.

When I can accept this, I can live in the truth of my current situation, and then it’s easier to endure because I’m not constantly straining to tell a different story than the one that’s actually happening. I continue to pray that things don’t go on like this forever, but for now, I can’t do as much as I’d like.

Find God

Carl Jung said, “Bidden or unbidden, God is there.” And He’s there whether it feels like He is or not. Even in the places that hurt, in the losses, and the uncertainty and the future that feels like maybe it doesn’t really exist, He is there. When I find Him, I find peace and rest and refreshment.

After the initial elation when we decided I would leave my job, I felt empty, scared, and abandoned. I wondered how God could do this to us, how He could take away the job my husband liked, and let mine become so difficult that I didn’t feel like I could both take proper care of myself and continue working there. Didn’t He know we had a baby — a baby who needs health insurance and a stable home? What was He thinking? Maybe He wasn’t thinking, at least not about us. In my pain and fear, I lost sight not only of God’s goodness but of His very presence in our struggle.

Yet He kept popping up in the strangest places. I saw Him in my daughter’s smile and my husband’s confidence about the future. I saw Him in the new friends he brought into our lives even as we were leaving, and in some serendipitous timing. Even when He didn’t seem present in the place where I wanted Him most, I knew He still hung around.

Seeing God in those little ways gave me the strength to keep walking, to keep putting foot in front of foot as I searched for Him. If He wasn’t gone entirely, then I knew He’d show His face in our vocational situation eventually. Even the littlest snippets of Him and His grace gave me what I needed to keep moving forward.

It’s been a hard year, but it’s also been a good one. While I pray that 2011 is gentler than 2010, I wouldn’t be the person I am today without 2010’s difficult times. Last year, I learned about joy in the midst of hardship and what it means to endure. Circumstances still aren’t easy, but continuing to move forward with faith and hope in the midst of them keeps getting easier. May those who struggle also find the strength to carry on, no matter the particulars of their situations.

Sarah Winfrey is a freelance writer and a mother, though not necessarily in that order. She learned to love both Jesus and words early in life, and now she's working to combine those two loves with passion and creativity. Her blog, Blessings Like Winged Horses, reflects this growing edge. Right now, she resides in Centennial, Colorado, where she's coming to appreciate the cold again.

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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.

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.

“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.

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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Hi, I'm Ashleigh Slater, founder and editor of Ungrind. Here at Ungrind, it’s our goal to churn out biblically-based encouragement for women. We strive to be honest and transparent about our struggles in a way that inspires hope, faith, and perseverance.

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A Hard Year’s Nights

by Sarah Winfrey time to read: 5 min