Trudging Up the Steep Hills

Psalm 121:1 “I lift up my eyes to the hills, where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, maker of heaven and earth.”

It’s painful when you’re trudging up a steep hill. Every fiber of your leg muscles tighten. You feel as if you won’t make it to the top. Your calf muscles silently scream, “Please stop! We can’t go another step!” Instead of looking up ahead at how much farther I have to go, I look down at the ground and literally watch my feet, one step at a time.

There’s something invigorating about finally reaching the top of a steep hill. I finally look up from the ground and realize I’ve made it! Trudging up that hill caused my heart to almost pound out of my chest. My rapid breathing finally slows down. I let out a sigh of relief. Yes! The ground ahead of me begins to level out now. It’s smooth and I can see more of what’s up ahead.

But I take a moment and turn around.  Did I really just come all this way? I stand in awe of the beauty around me. Depending on the season, I might be looking at lush-green trees lining the path behind me, blue sky overhead. At other times I might be looking at autumn leaves splattered with bright orange-red colors. My absolute favorite view at the top of the hill is in winter. The snow-covered trees, glistening in the sparkling light of the sun. I breathe in the air and turn my head back in front of me.

I’ve had my share of steep hills in this life. Some of them I’d rather forget about. But I can undoubtedly say that there’s something invigorating about finally making it to the top. Those trials I thought for sure would kill my soul and squash my spirit. Yes, there are times my heart has nearly broken, fiercely pounding out of my chest. My flesh shouting, “I can’t go another step!” But when I came to the end of that challenge, my breathing slowed down. My tears and anguish turned into joyous breaths of praise. Praise to my Lord Jesus who walked beside me each step of the way.

Did I really just come all this way? I stood in awe of the beauty around me. Not physical surroundings, but the beauty of what God had done in me. The beauty of the strength He equipped me with. The beauty of his promise to never leave me or forsake me. My faith was strengthened. My hope was renewed. My love for Him was magnified. And this view was something I wouldn’t trade for anything.

READY? Where are you, dear friend? Are you gasping for breath, trudging up a steep hill? Do you feel you won’t make it to the top? Does your heart ache and you just want to stop? I encourage you to tightly grip the loving arms of Jesus. He is right beside you as you go up the hill. He is with you every step of the way. He can’t wait to show you the view at the top!

GET SET. Deuteronomy 31:6 “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.”

GO! Lord Jesus, the hills of this life are hard. Sometimes I just want to give up. When I feel this way, please help me remember your truth. Help me cling to the fact that you are with me even though I can’t always see what’s up at the top. Thank you for your promise of being with me each step of the way. Amen

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Blessings to you!

Lisa Preuett 

 

When You Want to Hide

Psalm 91:4  “He will cover you with His feathers and under His wings you will find refuge.”

Do you ever feel like hiding? You know what I mean, those moments when you feel you just can’t take anymore. Those moments when bad news sends you diving into your bed and you just want to pull the covers over your head. Those moments when fear grips you. Paralyzing you to where you can barely breathe. Those moments when you can’t fathom the circumstances you’re forced to walk through.

The thing with hiding is that where you choose to hide can make all the difference in the world. In today’s scripture, David exhorts us to take cover under the mighty wings of God’s refuge. He uses the imagery of a bird covering her chicks with feathers to convey a powerful picture of how God protects us when we feel the urge to hide.

A few weeks ago, my daughter and I were walking along a river. This river was occupied by multiple ducks! At one point we stopped to observe what would become the highlight of our day.

A momma duck was gliding along the water with five fuzzy ducklings trailing close behind. They came to a jagged rock, just inches above the water. The momma duck waddled up onto the top of the rock, patiently waiting for her babies to follow her. One-by-one, they waddled up onto that rock, running right under their momma’s feathers. These ducklings huddled together and basked in the refuge and provision of their momma. At one point when the momma spread her feathers out, you could barely see her babies underneath. A young girl walking with her parents squealed with delight as they noticed the ducks, “Look! A mother duck! Oh, it looks like her babies are playing hide-and-seek!”

What a perfect picture of how God patiently waits for us to run to Him for cover! Just like the momma duck spread her feathers, God longs to spread His protective wings over us when we need to hide.

He longs to cover us.

To shield us.

To console us.

To renew our weary souls.

But we can’t embrace His blessings and comfort if we aren’t close to Him. To be under His wings indicates we are very close.

Close enough to Him to where we feel his heartbeat.

Close enough to hear His gentle whisper.

Close enough to sense His presence.

In my story with the momma duck, I mentioned there were five ducklings. However, it was only four of them who followed her. One of them never made it up to the top of the rock. It kept looking up at momma and its siblings, yet it continued to anxiously swim around and around in circles. Sometimes it looked as if it would follow the same path momma had, but it aimlessly circled the rock over and over again. We yelled at this wandering duckling to get on the rock! “Come on! Your momma is waiting for you. You can do it!” Yet every time it got to the crevice in the rock that would lead it upward, it kept going its own way. The duckling’s siblings were safe under the protective feathers. Shielded in the shadow of strong wings. Close to the heartbeat of their momma. But this little one was missing out.

Where are you, dear friend? Are you plunging yourself under the protective feathers of your loving Father? Are you hiding in the shadow of His wings during your most needy moments? Are you like those ducklings, safely huddled together enjoying comfort and peace?

Or are you like the wandering duckling? Are you anxiously going in circles going nowhere? Maybe you know  the Father longingly waits for you, yet you keep going your own way.

Dear friend, I understand the urge to hide! I know it all too well. I remember days when I wanted to cover up my head, with no desire to see light again. Days when I hid in other things. Other people. But the times I have run into the arms of my Savior to hide, those are the times I’ve felt the power of His presence and the calm of His peace.

I urge you to find your place of hiding under the wings of God almighty. I challenge you to embrace His presence and His promises. I want to encourage you to simply be still and allow His peace to overcome any fear you may be feeling. Climb up on the rock of your refuge and be safe. Be where He wants you to be….under His wings.

Psalm 91:4  “He will cover you with His feathers and under His wings you will find refuge.”

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When Your Plans Are Interrupted

Ever make plans to do something only to have those plans come to a screeching halt? You think you’re going to accomplish a desired task and then something happens, totally taking you in a different direction. Last week was crazy for us as it started out with my husband losing his job unexpectedly. (Read my post here for a fresh perspective of that day: (https://reststopforthesoul.com/2014/06/24/shocked-but-not-shaken)

The week continued in such a way, that every time I planned to do something, my plans were totally interrupted:

We’d planned to spend the day at the pool with our son and his girlfriend, but then their car broke down. Interruption!

Hurrying out the door, I’d planned to go for a long run in my neighborhood, but then the phone rang and it turned into a 30 minute conversation. Interruption!

I had a long overdue hair appointment, but the friend who does my hair had a family emergency come up and she had to cancel. Interruption!

We’d just put our boat in the lake Friday evening to join friends on their jet ski, but then it rained. Interruption!

It’s one thing if my plans are interrupted once in a while, but it’s another when it happens multiple times over the course of several days! There might be something God is trying to teach me. He has my attention. I’d better be listening.

God is certainly teaching me that I am not in control. It’s not wrong to plan things and organize the time He’s given us, but if I hold too tightly to MY plans, I’m setting myself up for disappointment. If I don’t look to Him when these interruptions occur, I’m bound to be upset. Frustrated.  Angry. Demanding.

I am NOT in control, but I serve a God who is. He sees the bigger picture. He has a higher plan. And He knows exactly what I need. And what I’ve seen over the course of these few days of constant interruptions is that other people are in the picture too. IT’S NOT ABOUT ME!

In each of the situations I mentioned above, I could label it an interruption. But when I genuinely pray to see things through God’s perspective and ask Him to show me how to respond, something amazing happens. What I label as interruptions, God sometimes calls interventions. Yes, I can see these events as opportunities when God intervenes and redirects my paths. He then intervenes in my heart and sometimes in the hearts of those around me.

Let me walk you through these interruptions again, but this time, view them through a different lens. God’s lens of interventions:

When the car broke down we couldn’t go to the pool, but over the course of the next several hours, my husband and son got to spend some quality time together under the hood of a car. One-on-one time that would not have happened at a swimming pool. We also got to witness God’s amazing power unfold through prayer. As we were making plans to have the car towed, it suddenly started up. Intervention!

When I was going out the door for a run and the phone rang, it was a family member I hadn’t talked to in a long time. She encouraged me during a much-needed time as I shared with her our situation with Jim’s sudden job loss. Intervention!

After I finally got to complete my run, a neighbor was pulling into her driveway at the exact time I was turning to go home. She was having a challenging morning and needed some encouragement and prayer. If the phone call hadn’t come when it did to delay my run, I would have missed the opportunity. Intervention!

When my hair appointment had to be cancelled, it freed up my day to spend more time with a friend who needed encouragement and allowed me some much-needed time to work on a project I’d been putting off. Intervention!

When we were on the lake and it started to rain, our friends who were riding their jet ski boarded our boat to take cover. I got to spend some quality time connecting with my friend. Time we wouldn’t have had if she’d been on the jet ski. Intervention!

How many times have I missed God’s blessing and overlooked His interventions because I was so absorbed in my own plans? How many times have I missed connecting with someone because I was too angry about my plans being interrupted? How many times have I focused on myself to the point I couldn’t see someone else in need? How many times have I demanded Why God? Instead of  whispering What now God?

And so I ask you the same questions, dear friend: Will you allow God to show you His way when your plans are interrupted? Will you allow God to show you His perspective when life doesn’t go as planned? It might be something as trivial as a cancelled hair appointment or it might be something more serious like a sudden job loss. Whatever it might be, I want to encourage you and challenge you to look for what God is trying to teach you in those moments. It might be something he wants to refine in you. Or He may be re-directing your path so you can connect with someone else.

It’s challenging to always respond the right way when our plans are interrupted! We won’t always get it right every time. But I’m so glad I serve a God who is gracious, patient and loving enough to keep giving me opportunities to see His interventions for what they are….and not as interruptions.

Proverbs 16:9 “A man’s mind plans his ways, but the Lord directs his steps.”

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Storing Up or Driving Through?

A package of 40 water bottles.  45 rolls of toilet paper. Goldfish crackers, chicken nuggets and loaves of bread to last for a month. Yes! I love going to Sams Club! My cart gets overstuffed every single time and sometimes it’s difficult to push it by the time I get to the check-out area.

Everything there is in BULK. You can’t just run in there and get a small item. You can’t  get one of anything. Nope. This kind of store is designed for people to stockpile their favorite items. When I pull out of the parking lot I realize I won’t be back here again for at least a month…maybe longer. I breathe a sigh of relief knowing I won’t have to worry about purchasing these things for some time.

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Ever wish you could stockpile other things? For instance, how about grace? Now I could definitely use a month’s worth of that! Wouldn’t it be cool? Bam! Here you go…all the grace you’ll need for at least a month.

What about patience? Yep. Every parent would fork over a chunk of change to buy even a week’s worth of patience to dole out on their stubborn-strong-willed children. Just open up the pantry where all the other bulk stuff is stored and grab a jar of patience for the day.

Oh, and wouldn’t it be ideal if we could buy a big bulk package of wisdom? If that were possible, I’d fill as many carts as I could push and load those packages up in a truck. I wouldn’t have to worry about asking for wisdom for a very long time.

But it doesn’t work that way. Not at all. God did not design us to stock pile these attributes in bulk. He doesn’t just dump a load of grace, patience and wisdom on us and say,  “This should last you a while; see you next month.” Why??? Why can’t it work that way?

He wants us to come to Him DAILY. He longs for a relationship with us. He wants us to depend on Him moment by moment. Not month by month.

When Jesus was teaching his disciples to pray in Matthew 6:11, he said, “Give us today our daily bread.” Notice the word daily. Nothing in there about a Sam’s Club portion of bread. In Exodus 16:4-5 God instructed the Israelites to gather up only a day’s worth of manna. He even warned them that if they tried to gather more than that, it would spoil. He did this to test them and see if they would rely on His provision for each day alone.

Back in those days they didn’t have the extra freezer in the basement to store a month’s supply of beef on sale. They didn’t even have a refrigerator to keep things cold. They truly had to focus on the food for each meal at a time. Which is just how God wants us to relate to Him. He wants us to rely solely on Him. One moment at a time.

As ideal as it sounds, we just weren’t designed to store up grace for a month. God promises His grace is sufficient. And it is.

For today.

But when I worry about something next week or something way down the road, there’s no grace given to me yet for those things. I can’t just go to my pantry and pull out an ounce of grace for next week’s problems.

Do we sometimes go to church on Sunday and think we’re good to go for the week? I’m quite guilty of this at times! Yep, I’ve stocked up on enough wisdom to get me through til next week. I’ve got enough living water to soak up until next time. And then we attempt to plod through our week thinking we have enough stored up. But before Tuesday comes, we’re bewildered as to why we’re feeling dried up. We’re thirsty. And we desperately need a drink.

When running errands with my daughter on a hot summer day, a familiar scenario plays out. After getting in and out of the car multiple times and then sitting in traffic, we realize we are thirsty! Those 40 bottles of water from Sams sitting in the pantry at home don’t do us any good in that moment. Not at all. So we pull over to the closest fast food place we can find and order a large ice-cold water or lemonade through the drive-through. It hits the spot perfectly. It satisfies our thirst. At this point it wouldn’t matter if there were 400 bottles of water at home in the pantry. We get thirsty daily. And sometimes it happens when we least expect it. No amount of planning ahead would solve the problem. All we know is that we need something to drink in that moment.

Dear friend, if we want to have a real, deep relationship with our Heavenly Father, then we have to get rid of our Sam’s Club mentality. And then replace it with a “gotta-have-a-drink-right-now” approach instead.

Just enough for one day.  One moment. One desperate drink at a time.

Are you trying to cram as much as you can into one shopping spree? Is the cart of your heart so heavy you can barely push it down the aisle?  Get enough for one day.  Just as Sam’s Club seems to have a never-ending supply of bottled water, toilet paper and chicken nuggets, our Heavenly Father has more than enough love to lavish on us.

Enough wisdom.
Enough patience.
Enough grace.

It’s never going to run dry. It will be there every dayEach and every moment

Matthew 6:11 “Give us today our daily bread.”

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Look at the Birds!

We have a bird feeder in front of our dining room window. It’s amazing to stop and watch these creatures as they sit perched up high, eating to their heart’s desire. Once one bird discovers the feeder, it’s not too much longer before a whole crew shows up for the dinner party. Just when I fill up the feeder, it seems I’m filling it up again and again.

One day my daughter asked me, “Mom, what would the birds eat if we didn’t feed them?”

I assured her the birds would eat food in the wild without our help. God even tells us this in His word!

Matthew 6:26, “Look at the birds of the air. They do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”

God most certainly created birds to display His awesome power and for our enjoyment. But I think He also created them to remind us of how much He will take care of us.

If birds could speak our human language, I wonder if we’d hear them say things like this:

“I wish I had a different flavor worm today!”

“Why does that blue jay have more than I do?”

“Hey everybody, let’s build a Sams Club to store up food for a whole year!”

“I’m so worried there won’t be any worms tomorrow, I might as well head back to my nest and just die.”

I don’t think we’d hear the birds utter anything like this at all. Their behavior seems to indicate the opposite.

Just listen to them chirp.

Listen to them sing.

Watch them bounce happily across the lawn.

They appear to be very content.

Why can’t I be more like these birds? Sometimes I make my life so complicated. Sometimes I bring undue stress on myself. Sometimes I worry about something tomorrow, zapping my joy for today.

What qualities do these birds possess that I want? Contentment… with life as it is. Trust… that their needs are always met.

God promises to take care of their needs. Their God-given menu consists of worms, insects, plants, berries and even weed seeds! But the fancy bird feeders are extra to them. The fancy bird feeders are like icing on the cake. The fancy bird feeders are equivalent to our wants…beyond our basic needs.

Oh how the truth of this convicts my heart. Why do I ever doubt God’s provision? Why do I worry about something that is not in my control? If God promises to take care of these simple birds, then how much more will He take care of me? We are eternal souls who get to live in the lavish love of our Heavenly Father! Of course He will take care of us. And He goes way beyond just meeting our basic needs. He often gives us an overflow so full we can hardly fathom it. He lets us perch on the never-ending flow of the fancy bird feeder. He gives us more than a basic “worm and insect” diet.

So where are you dear friend? Are you perched happily on the edge of your bird feeder? Or are you scrambling around on the ground worried about getting worms?

From here on out, anytime you see a bird, let it be a reminder to you that God will take care of your needs. And He will go way beyond that!

Matthew 6:26 ” “Look at the birds of the air. They do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”

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Never Say Never!

Deuteronomy 31:6  “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”

The first time I ran a half marathon, I found myself laughing at a certain point in the race. When runners get to mile marker #9, something drastic happens. Up until this point, everyone is running on the same course, half-marathoners and full-marathoners together. Everyone is mixed in and you don’t know who is running which race. You’d never know just by looking at them. But then at mile marker #9 the course literally is divided. It splits down the middle of an intersection. The half-marathoners turn left and the full-marathoners turn right. This is where I found myself laughing out loud and thinking very clear:

There is no way I’d ever run a full marathon! I could NEVER do that! Heck, I don’t know if I will even make it through the next 4 miles to complete this race! Ha! Those people are crazy! I don’t understand why or how they do it.

Fast forward four years and six half marathons later.  I’d registered for a full marathon after a stirring in my heart. It was time for a new challenge. Before I knew it, there I was! Standing at the start line of my first marathon.

I was approaching mile marker #9, the crucial turning point where the race split. The bright orange warning signs flashed in front of me. A man blasted through a megaphone, “Attention runners! Half-marathoners go left! Marathoners go right! Runners chaotically dashed from one side to the other. Two runners brushed up against me. merging to the left. And then the truth hit me hard: I was now running on the right side of the road…with fewer people. I glanced over my left shoulder, watching the half-marathoners fade out of my sight. Only 4 more miles and they’d cross their finish line. But for me, I had 17 more to go! At first a rush of excitement ignited my mind as I ventured into this new challenge. But when it quickly wore off, that’s when it hit me:

I was attempting something I said I’d NEVER do!

How many times in our lives have we dug our feet in the sand exclaiming,

I will NEVER do that!

I could NEVER walk a path like hers!

I’d NEVER survive a trial like that.

But then later you find yourself walking that forbidden path. The one you said you’d never take a step onto. Maybe God has called you out of your comfort zone and you’re headed into a season of life you never dreamed you’d find yourself. Or maybe there’s an area of your life you’re clinging too tightly to, refusing to let go. Perhaps you’re gripped with grief or fear because of an unexpected trial.

I’ll never be able to lose weight; It’s just too hard.
I will never home school; I don’t have the patience for that. 
I could never leave my hometown; I’ve lived here my whole life.
I could never invite my neighbor to church; I couldn’t handle the rejection.
I could never consider adoption; I’m fine with the family I have.

I could NEVER ___________________?

Fill in the blank. What is it for you?

It’s possible that your “I could never” is a fear lurking in the deepest part of your heart. If that’s the case, surrender your fear to Jesus and refuse to let the enemy rob you of joy. Maybe your “I could never” is something God is nudging you towards, requiring a deeper trust. Whatever it may be, God promises to be with us through it all. In the face of your “I could never”, let me point you to a truth where God uses the word NEVER.  To those who are His followers, He promises to NEVER leave us or forsake us. Instead of focusing on your “never”, embrace the truth of His”never”!

READY? Have you ever done something after you said you’d never do it? What caused you to step out and change your mind? Identify an aspect of your life you’re saying never to right now. Ask God to clarify whether it’s fear speaking or his gentle nudge.

GET SET. Hebrews 13:5  “…be content with what you have because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you. Never will I forsake you.”

GO! Heavenly Father, help me to trust you when my flesh says “Never”. When I’m tempted to let fear grip my heart, help me step out in faith and trust you. Help me not to worry about future trials, but to rest in the assurance that you’ll be with me when those times come. Thank you for the promise of never leaving me! Amen.

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Blessings to you!

Lisa Preuett