(Perfect tree just outside our house)
Those of you that know us closely know that it has been a hard week.  For those that don't know us so closely, just know... its been a hard week.  And its not like we're total strangers to tough seasons of life, but this one has been unique for a lot of reasons. I was doing dishes recently (this is actually when I do a lot of my best thinking) and going over everything in my head.  And what I realized was this: In all of our struggles, we have eventually had to reach the same grounded place in our hearts before we could move on to anything better that God might have for us.  And this has been no exception. And yet this time, for this struggle, I feel like God himself put these strengths almost immediately before me. It was nothing I had to seek or strive to attain.  Of course, in everything it was a choice to grab hold of what he was offering, but still... he just gave it to me.  Even now I have to pause and just love him for that.

And I think its because these things were so foreign and humanly unnatural in a time of trial/pain, I have been able to see them very clearly this time. I know whats in my heart has no other source or origin but God.  That being said, I feel I can finally understand what God desires to see in our hearts while we struggle, but also -and more importantly- what he desires to give us when we struggle.

1. Peace and Comfort. One of the toughest parts of getting through something hard is just getting to the place where you don't feel so BLAH.  Be it sad, angry, frustrated, confused, whatever... usually our hearts and emotions are a chaotic mess.  I felt like the first thing God spoke to my heart was simply the call to rest. One of the first scriptures I read was "In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength. The Lord waits to be gracious to you, blessed are all those who wait for him. Though he give you the bread of affliction, your eyes shall see your teacher. Your ears shall hear a word behind you saying, "This is the way, walk in it."  Pair that with the crazy-awesome/super-beloved promise in Romans that God will work all things together for the good of those who love him, and we've got a huge assurance of God's goodness in our lives. The goodness that he desires to bless us with when we rest, trust, and listen for his voice and (here's the tricky part) the goodness that we sometimes must wait to see.  We must wait until the time he shows us a new way, and until then, simply rest in the quiet strength that comes with a real relationship with him. 
2. Thankfulness.  This was probably the most surprising and unnatural response that I felt welling up inside of me, but I seriously felt it.  Thankful.  Somehow in a week of big things going wrong, I began to see a lot of things going incredibly right.  Not even just the basic things (like our happy marriage, or Annika's health, or the glory of autumn sunsets) but specific things, details that fell into place in preparation for last week.  When I started recognizing all of those blessings, I was overwhelmed with gratitude for God's concern for me, that he would care enough to equip us in advance, but he is just. that. good. And again, pair that with the confidence that he's still working to redeem things for my good, and its almost too much.  It actually is too much to keep inside, really.   Psalms says "Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good and his love lasts forever!  Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom he has redeemed from trouble!" So, if he's redeeming the trouble that we've had for the goodness that he wills for us, then I'm one of the redeemed.  He is good, he loves me, I am thankful, and I must say so.  And not just say it with my mouth, but feel it deeply in my heart.  Thankfulness.
3.  Joy. Bubbly happiness is not something you really feel, or even want to feel, in the middle of crappy, hard times.  And its not more "Christian" to try to make ourselves feel happy when we're not.  In fact, I'm currently learning how the Bible allows for grief and mourning way more than our culture is even comfortable with.  If we really wanted to look exactly like God's people (Old Testament Israelites) in our suffering, we'll tear our clothes, smear ashes across our face and dress ourselves in a sackcloth.  Its okay to be sad.  And yet we have no cause to ever lose our joy.  Joy is more like a deeply rooted hope in the realness of God and the realness of his really real love.  Redundant, sure, but still... it makes a difference to look into the future and know who is really already there.  Part of my particular struggle includes a stubborn, nagging anxiety about details of our future.  And that anxiety could easily become a serious fear for me, but there is no fear in love and perfect love casts out fear.  Because God loves me so perfectly, because his goodness to me is so real, I have nothing to be afraid of. And because I can trust that perfect love and real goodness, I can also rejoice in the hope that kind of confidence brings.


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