Walking through the Valley of Tears

“Nothing comes to you that doesn’t pass through God’s providential fingers first.” – Tony Evans

Oftentimes I post a blog after I’ve come through a valley and found myself on the other side. I can share my experience and hope because I’ve found comfort in the outcome or the resolution of a pain. However, I realized it may be beneficial to offer honesty in the midst of a tragic and deeply sorrowful season so others know they aren’t alone.

Can you relate? What happens when life hits and all you can think is, “it’s not supposed to be this way?” How can situations be reconciled when you’ve prayed so hard, fought relentlessly and tragedy still occurs? Waking up each morning with the gut wrenching alarm clock that life is forever changed…it isn’t merely a dream…this is a sickening awareness.

Sorrow is a deep experience encompassing the soul, overwhelming the heart and emotions. It is a process that can be devastating physically, mentally and spiritually. When tragedy happens through death, betrayal and losses of other types it can be paralyzing. Although time does not stand still, I sometimes wish it would so I could regain a sense of grounding. Each day is a battle, a conscious one, to face life one day at a time in the midst of a new reality. A new reality I didn’t choose. One that effects so many. One that was never supposed to happen but it did anyway. Where is God’s providence in that?

“Providence acknowledges that ultimately God is in control, and that His method of being in control often involves twists, turns and meanderings.” -Tony Evans

So how do we fight this battle with courage, hope and dignity? How can I maintain a patient enduring trust without an end destination in sight? Here is where I am landing. We fight, we fight relentlessly with His Word as our sword. I honestly take my pain, anger, hurt, frustration, confusion, fear and selfishness to His throne. I lay it down there multiple times throughout the day and ask for His wisdom to see the situation through His eyes. I seek Him through His Word and have found much comfort in Psalms. I repeat scripture back to Him. I cling to His promises even when my emotions don’t line up and trust they will…..eventually. His word penetrates and pierces down to the joints and marrow, it judges the thoughts and attitudes of my heart and WILL straighten out what is broken within.

“…God will often allow things in our own lives to go south, or remain unchanged in order to bring us to a place where His sovereignty is on display. Whether it is our own hearts or someone else’s, rebellion against God breeds further rebellion as the Lord uses those times and situations to demonstrate His sovereign hand.” – Tony Evans

When I’m hurt my tendency is to find someone or something to blame. Although this is only natural, we are not called to live a life of the natural but of the Spirit. The enemy is the enemy and we live in a broken, lost and confused world. He comes to steal, kill and destroy so when these fiery trials happen, why do we act surprised? It is in these moments that I must fight everything within me and choose to submit and clothe myself with the most unnatural clothing, that not of my flesh but of His Spirit. Why? Because bitterness and anger will only destroy me and many others around me. This is what I must set myself against, not another person but the self-will & humanity of my flesh. I’m called to be different and shine a light regardless of the darkness threatening to settle.

“Because when you know that God is in control – even of those things that appear to be out of control – you are able to move through life benefiting from the blessings of assurance, peace and self-control. When you truly understand that He is in your corner – our greatest defender and vindicator – you will no longer seek to rescue yourself.” – Tony Evans

The Valley of Baka, or Valley of Tears, is referenced in Psalm 84. I was led to this passage in Beth Moore’s The Quest just this morning. It is proving to be a balm to my wound and is pulling me out of the hole I crawled into when my grief overtook me. I pray I will embrace the blessing of His strength and sovereignty. When my world is falling around me and the depths of my sorrow know no end, I pray to pass through this valley as His strength transforms my pools of tears to springs of abundance because of His favor. I pray this for you also. This doesn’t mean the circumstance has to be resolved for my soul to be still. This is an active, daily choice knowing the Lord will work out His plans for my life, in His time.

So what will I do? I will grieve this season of life, fully. I will feel the emotions to the deepest levels. I will mourn with all that I have within me, but yet I will trust Him still. I will continue believing His promises and know that one day He will turn my mourning into dancing. I will allow myself to be broken completely so He can put me back together His way, not mine. My brokenness will be used for His glory. I will not pretend to be ok when I am not, but I will not be one without hope. Though outwardly I’m wasting away, inwardly He will renew me day by day. One day He will bring purpose and redemption, because He promises to do so. It’s who He is. I however must release any expectation of what that may look like. Right now my position must be one of surrender to mourn what must rightfully be mourned as He catches my tears, EVERY SINGLE ONE.

“Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.” Isaiah 58:8

Breaking Free from Fear

The last post I made was entitled “Fear the Evil and Corroding Thread” which describes the imagery of fear perfectly. It’s a thread at the end of a woven sweater. If you tug on it and keep pulling, before you know it you’ll be short an arm. Eventually if you don’t cut it off, you’ll be left standing with a handful of unraveled wool and an exposed torso. The remnants of a once beautiful item but a memory, just because we refused to let go.

I continue to wage war and fight this battle to let go. I refuse to blindly accept my thoughts and emotions as truth. When my feelings are clearly in conflict with God’s word I must actively choose to live in active faith instead of dwelling in fear.

Without realizing it for much of my life I’ve had the expectation that “it” all works out, but my “it” has been an external focus. The “it” that will get worked out is my spirit, the inner man. I’ve been promised that He who began a good work in me will carry it to completion. I’m assured my tests and trials have purpose to produce steadfastness, maturing faith and for the comfort and encouragement of others. My expectation that “it” all works out hinges on a perspective originating from self, not the Lord. This view is so limited that I can wear blinders creating a tunnel vision effect and not even realize what I’m doing. “It” has to work out and “it” will, but it’s going to be worked out inside my spirit through the power of Jesus. My circumstance may not work out how I would like, wish or pray. That’s reality and where fear most often taunts and tethers.

When God says, “Fear not” He isn’t saying don’t be afraid because your life is going to be roses and butterflies. He wants me to trust Him even when it hurts. So many times God tells me not to fear but He’s not telling me there won’t be horrible, painful, heartbreaking trials and tragedies…no, He’s strongly suggesting I hold onto Him for dear life while everything inside screams in terror. He provides peace that surpasses all understanding in the midst of these situations, but I must choose to embrace it. He will keep me in perfect peace when my mind stays on Him because I trust Him. On my own I am not able or meant to withstand the tumultuous current of crashing waves on the shore of life. There are so many verses addressing fear because it is such a natural and common human response.

Well hold on, there are some legitimate things happening that I’m afraid of. Yeah, I understand, believe me. Some of my greatest fears have been realized, but I’m still breathing. I’m facing some seemingly insurmountable obstacles which have aroused fear. There is almost relief being on the other side, no longer in anticipation and apprehension because in my desperation I have no illusions I could go forward on my own. I must live one day at a time in reality and His grace is here with me.

 

thread of fear

 

I heard the coolest illustration this week describing faith and trust. Faith is going to a circus, seeing a funambulist about to perform and believing he will walk across the tight-rope safely arriving on the other side. Trust is an entirely different thing requiring action. Trust is climbing in a wheelbarrow and allowing the funambulist to push you safely across. I have to take action to fight for victory over fear, because simply saying I have faith isn’t enough. Victory requires effort by consistently submitting to the Lord trusting His Spirit in me to overcome obstacles arousing fear. Faith without works is dead.

 “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened and do not be dismayed for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

Joshua 1:9

God continually told the Israelites in the Old Testament not to fear, be frightened, live in dread or be terrified of the enemy because He would fight for them. Yet they continued to doubt Him and complain. Reading through the stories its almost unbelievable how soon they forget God’s provision for EVERY single need. But you know what, I do the very same thing. When I begin to doubt, demanding answers to questions beginning with “Why” finding no satisfactory explanation to reconcile the hurt inside of me, similarly I too forget His provision. God usually doesn’t fight for me the way I want Him to. I want Him to fix, adjust, bring justice or alter a circumstance based on my perspective and when that doesn’t happen I can slip into doubt. Does He see me? Does He care? Well of course He does, but I have to open my eyes to see how He is fighting for me. I have to surrender and take a look at my heart. This process isn’t easy, its a hashing out of emotions and tears. My friends, life can be really hard sometimes, excruciatingly painful and overwhelmingly unbearable, but God is constantly fighting for us. Some days we may just need to cry, but not with hopelessness. It’s ok to grieve what has been lost, but let us never doubt God will redeem every moment for His good. The hope is in moving forward. We must go forward to receive what God has waiting. He has gone before, because unlike you and I, He isn’t limited to today. He is the God who is, who was and who is to come.

 “And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” The Lord said to Moses, “Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward.”

Exodus 14:13-15

In the New Testament as Paul reminds us of the Spirit of power, love and self-control Jesus has gifted us, not one of fear. The word used for fear in this verse is “deilia” which is always used in a negative sense. It applies to a personality trait of cowardice and timidity often translated to fright or fearfulness. In my previous post I spoke of the spiritual oppression and the sense of dread that comes with fear. If my response is to do nothing and hide in comforts and habits, I’m acting out of the personality trait referenced here. We are reminded that Jesus wants us to live freely. He did not rescue us for us to live in slavery to fear. In Romans Paul offers the encouraging truth testifying we did not receive a spirit that makes us a slave to fear but God has adopted us as His own.

Fear is in direct conflict with the peace Jesus desires for us. However another word for fear “phobos” and “eulabeia” can be used speaking of deep respect and accountability to God, a reverential caution or apprehension. I think there are some things we should be cautious about. There have been moments in my life where my gut feeling, my spirit, my conscience…basically everything inside of me screamed that something was wrong. I’ve learned those are the times I must hit my knees and ask for wisdom. Lack of power is my dilemma, but only when I’m trying to do it on my own. God has gifted us with His Spirit, if we’ve accepted Jesus as the leader of our life. All power is available to us in submission to Him.

Here is what its coming down to for me. Is the object of my faith Jesus or what I believe He will DO for me? Is my hope set on Him or how I’ve interpreted His promises? Is my respect for God and desire to live accountable to Him greater than my need for success, affection, approval, relationships, prosperity, financial security, ad infinitum? Do I trust Him even when it hurts and the tears won’t stop flowing? Can I live my life today, one day at a time expectantly awaiting His provision? Perfect love casts out fear and God desires to perfect us with His love. It’s the only love that will do.

I cherish this passage and will end with this. Jesus gets it ya’ll. He lived in the flesh and experienced all these feelings just like us. He hurt and sacrificed all to offer us freedom in the midst of pain.

“While Jesus was here on earth, he offered prayers and pleadings, with a loud cry and tears, to the one who could rescue him from death. And God heard his prayers because of his deep reverence for God. Even though Jesus was God’s Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered. In this way, God qualified him as a perfect High Priest, and he became the source of eternal salvation for all those who obey him.”

Hebrews 5:7-9 NLT

A Hope Worthy of Endurance

Over the past 10 days I’ve put in some miles. From Texas to the mountains in New Mexico, to East Texas on to Louisiana and back again to West Texas. I added up the miles, because once I started contemplating the distance, I just had to know. I’ve had 1,900 miles of windshield time to think, pray, consider and chat. Some of those miles included four kids, some only two. Some included my niece and some my brother. So many conversations and so many words poured out as the tires rolled down the road on my trek from one hot summer locale to another.

I traveled to the mountains to run my first half marathon with my dad. I drove to East Texas and Louisiana to pay tribute and bury my grandfather. So many miles gave time for words to accumulate in my soul. The build-up creates an overflow and these thoughts are my spillway. I hope you can be encouraged whatever season you are in. A season of beginnings, one of endings, maybe just a season that has yet to be named.

How often in life do we face seasons that demand endurance? Circumstances that ask everything of us and more. How many times have I fallen on my face, in the mud because I try and do it on my own? Too many. However I’ve fallen hard enough and into the pit so deep that it caught my attention that there must be another way. A much better way. The way my grandparents have lived their lives and walked in the manner worthy of the calling they have received.

My Papaw, Rodney Louis Salmon, was an incredible man. Tenacity would be an appropriate term. In fact, he carried his favorite poem in his pocket entitled, “Don’t Quit”. I wasn’t even aware of this until his passing, but it doesn’t surprise me one bit. He served in the Air Force and completed graduate work at University of Texas. He was an accountant by trade and very precise, yet he had a mischievous streak that ran deep. He married Nora Beth Fuller, my Memaw in 1958 and they were an amazing complement to one another during their 59 years of marriage. I have many fond memories of his dinner table story-telling and my Memaw “assisting” him in sticking to the actual events, not the exaggerated ones, reminding him of the original story he set out to tell. She did it with such tact, always respectful, a skill I recognize much more now as an adult myself. I honestly don’t think we ever finished a story because he chased many a squirrel up multiple trees in expansive forests and by then we never remembered what the intended point was. But we enjoyed it. We enjoyed him.

Health and physical fitness were important to him. He was very competitive and loved letting us know how he beat men half his age on the racquetball court. His morning sit-up routine and exercise regimen is more than the average person does in one day and he completed half of it before getting out of bed. It is quickly becoming something of legend among his great-granddaughters and may soon morph out of proportion to a fable of sorts if we’re not careful. Family was very important to him and everything he did was driven by his love for the Lord. He relied on Jesus for his strength to push on, no matter what.

This is why the onset of his dementia was so difficult. It’s not like it would be easy in any situation, but my Papaw was a larger than life man with superhuman qualities. At first it was little things that started to go, like forgetting words and facts. But it progressed to the point of him being unable to move on his own or complete any basic task. This progression wasn’t fast. It was gradual and it lasted over a span of thirteen years before he was released from this earthly body into eternity with our Savior.

With every season and situation there are multiple facets. As we honored my grandfather’s life this past weekend, a piece of this story caused me to pause. I made a short post on Instagram and touched on this, but I must go even deeper. My Memaw has loved and served my Papaw faithfully through their life and his illness. They shared a marriage that honored Christ, showing countless generations what it means to love joyfully, “for better or for worse, in sickness and in health”. The last 13 years have required a strength that no human possesses of themselves. God is faithful and provides exactly what we need for each moment. My grandparents have had many “moments” and knew who to go to for sustenance minute by minute, day by day. When the day came that my Papaw could no longer communicate my Memaw pressed on. When the day came that he could no longer walk, she pressed on. When the time arrived that he was confined to his bed, she didn’t waiver. Her witness to countless onlookers holds value and weight beyond measure. On this side of heaven she may never know the impact of her joyful endurance and service, but Jesus knows….and I’m sure He will embrace her one day when she joins Him and whisper in her ear, “Well done, my good and faithful servant”.

Thirteen years. How easy it is to glance at another’s circumstance but not give thought to the internal battle of emotions waging each day. My Memaw never complained. She didn’t serve begrudgingly, but joyfully. She wanted to be involved. Dementia is a thief and steals everything while leaving the warm body of your loved one. Out of respect for my Memaw I don’t want to go into detail, but caring for a loved one who is sick is not glamorous. That never mattered, she served him with determination to do what was best for him. She prayed constantly. So many decisions had to be made and she didn’t take that responsibility lightly. My Memaw is a warrior, with a beautiful Alto voice, and she serves the King. She has always taken her requests to the throne begging for His wisdom, asking Him for His involvement. When she says she will pray for you she means it. What a legacy. What a bloodline. Ya’ll I’m in tears to have the privilege of knowing these people I call my grandparents.

A running theme of an overarching season in my life is focused around the Greek word hupomone which translates to our English words endurance, steadfastness, and patience. It literally means cheerful or hopeful endurance. I first became aware of the word when studying James about seven years ago and groaned.

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” ‭‭

James‬ ‭1:2-4‬ ‭ESV‬‬

It’s been such a continual lesson that I recently had some new ink applied with an equation of the Greek for “endurance + encouragement = hope” on my right arm. It’s a reminder that endurance doesn’t stand by itself. It’s not an independent external action but an internal work from God allowing us to remain under the shadow of His wing during tough, excruciating, devastating, drawn out attacks on our souls. Hupomone is strengthening through His encouragement that allows us to hold onto hope. Not hope of a person changing, situation easing, sickness leaving, loved one returning, marriage redeeming, addiction disappearing, financial burden lifting, child returning, cycle ending or any other miracle we may yearn for, but hope in Christ in whom all things are held together.

Of course we pray for all of these things, but our hope doesn’t rest in a circumstance changing. Our hope is eternal. To endure whatever season or situation we are in with patient and joyful endurance we need encouragement. Paraklesis is the biblical encouragement I’m referencing. To have hope we must be encouraged to not lose hope. Thankfully God does this for us. He himself encourages us. He is the God of encouragement. He does it through scripture, the Holy Spirit and also through the community of believers.

“For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus,”
‭‭Romans‬ ‭15:4-5‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Life when lived for duty without passion and purpose falls stale. It’s dangerous. To do what is right can begin with the proper motive but life will wear you down. It’s whittled me down to bare bone on many occasion. One of the most painful seasons of my life, to date, is when my steadfast pursuit of enduring lost focus. Initially “Jesus loves ME” was my “why” but my focus shifted to an indignant, “Well, I love Jesus, so why me?!” I became angry and resentful and began to make the wrong decisions. Duty for the sake of duty falls short. I believe the term legalism may ring true. It is not of God and holds no encouraging power.

Discouragement is dangerous, but so natural to our human nature. God understands and that’s why He Himself encourages us. We are also called to be there for one another. Not in giving our opinions, gossiping by way of requesting prayer, or judging how others are walking according to our perception, but by sharing our experience, strength and hope. Maybe we could start by praying for situations ourselves and seeking His Word for direction so we can be encouragers to those God places around us? An excerpt from William Barclay’s “The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians and Thessalonians” describes this relationship between hupomone and paraklesis far better than I ever could:

“Here we have two great words. Patience is in Greek hupomone, which never means simply the ability to sit down and bear things but the ability to rise up and conquer them. God is the one who gives us the power to use any experience to lend greatness and glory to life. God is the one in whom we learn to use joy and sorrow, success and failure, achievement and disappointment alike, to enrich and ennoble life, to make us more useful to others and to bring us nearer to himself. Consolation and comfort are the same Greek word – paraklesis. Paraklesis is far more than soothing sympathy; it is encouragement. It is the help which not only puts an arm round someone but sends that person out to face the world; it not only wipes away the tears but makes it possible to face the world with steady eyes. Paraklesis is comfort and strength combined. God is the one in whom any situation becomes our glory and in whom people find strength to go on gallantly when life has collapsed.”

When running the half marathon with my dad in Ruidoso we had several mountains to climb. The entire race wasn’t uphill, there were many ups and downs. Being a fellow flatlander himself he understood some of the obstacles I would face. A friend shared a tip with him years ago that he shared with me. Never look at the top of the climb, just put one foot in front of the other. Look directly in front of you, only a little ahead to see where you’re going, but never all the way up. Eventually you’ll get there without all the mental doubt of not being able to make it.

It is one foot in front of the other, one moment at a time, one day at a time. Life can become overwhelming if we try to take it all on. God never asks us to do that. He gives us our daily bread. I am not who I will be a week from today, one month from today, one year from today. Enduring our current season builds new character producing hope through the Holy Spirit. The character built enables us to face each day as it is called “today.” My Memaw pressed on a day at a time trusting Jesus and I believe she will continue doing this each day until she joins Him. It’s a way of life not just some nice tag line or cliché. Let it be the same for us, one day at a time as we trudge this road together.

 ’Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just to take Him at His word;
Just to rest upon His promise;
Just to know, Thus saith the Lord.

Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him,
How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er,
Jesus, Jesus, Precious Jesus!
O for grace to trust Him more.

I’m so glad I learned to trust Thee,
Precious Jesus, Savior, Friend;
And I know that Thou art with me,
Wilt be with me to the end.

Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him,
How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er,
Jesus, Jesus, Precious Jesus!
O for grace to trust Him more.

 

images