Getting My Roots Done

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I was really irritated; it seemed I had just come from having my hair done and I woke to my hair rebelling and growing. It needed to be retouched and I simply can’t easily find time to keep myself sorted. I mean, looking this way doesn’t just happen by chance.

Yes, I’ve fallen as most of us have for the lie that we need to work hard to keep things at least in a satisfactory condition. I won’t stop doing my hair any time soon, although I wonder if there might come a day that I’ll opt for something simpler than having my roots done every 2 ½ months or so, but I do know that there’s a nearly invisible line that I need to keep myself from crossing in order to keep things in the right perspective.

There are many things we allow ourselves to think are important when, really, they fall under the “optional” category. Some of those things might even fall into the “unnecessary” category. Finally, there are things we may entertain with the hope of improving ourselves that fall into the “don’t do it” category.

Why have we allowed ourselves to believe we need to adjust who we are in appearance, personality, or ability to the point that we become almost unrecognizable? I wonder if we are simply trying to fill a void inside of us that only God Himself can fill for when He fills us – His satisfaction of Who He is fills us.

God isn’t in the middle of an identity crisis nor does He feel the need to change His appearance according to the eclectic whims of society’s norms.

Jeremiah  9:24b TLB “Let them boast in this alone: That they truly know me and understand that I am the Lord of justice and of righteousness whose love is steadfast; and that I love to be this way.”

When we come to know God, when He becomes our Father and Jesus becomes our Lord, His desire is for us to know Who He is and to understand that He is very secure in Who He is. He doesn’t try to make Himself out to be anyone other than Who He is – and He wants us to be just as secure in who He has made us to be.

As a parent of 4 amazing children (3 grown and one 9-year-old), there’s little that moves me to tears more than having my children believe that they aren’t “enough” as individuals. I know, and their father knows, that they’re amazing – and if someone doesn’t recognize this and tries to get them to change who they are, my heart is grieved!

I can’t imagine what our Heavenly Father feels every time we bow to the pressures of society saying,

“You’re not enough.”

“You’re too young to understand.”

“You’ve lived overseas, what do you know about America?”

“You’re now too old to make a difference.”

“You’re out of touch with what’s relevant today.”

“You take God too seriously.”

Such statements make us feel very uncomfortable and bring us to question our internal values – those values we used to hold dear. That we are the children of God, that we are redeemed, that we are loved, that we are cherished, and that He makes up for all of what we lack. He makes us to be enough for Him which astounds me.

Since when have we stopped loving who God made us to be?

God, our Heavenly Father, is the only One I can take seriously in a day and age when opinions change daily. Everything from earthly friendships to politics are subject to change moment by moment according to what is acceptable – according to what is relevant and politically correct at the moment.

So, in response to everyone who may think I’m not enough, or think that I take God too seriously I say:

Yes, indeed, I take God very seriously because He takes me very seriously and won’t discard me as I am tomorrow. When I wake up, He is with me and when I sleep, He will be there. I am His, and He is mine, and that I have found is enough.

Psalm 139:17,18 NLT “How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered. I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand! And when I wake up, you are still with me!”

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The “Why”

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“Why?”

It’s the question of the ages that has gone largely unanswered: Why do bad things happen?

The past months, our world has been inundated with bad news; catastrophe after catastrophe, loss after loss, and without much explanation. We struggle to get behind the reasons for the trouble; if we could know “the why” perhaps, we reason, we could come to terms with the outcomes we are facing.

Working in Central Africa years ago in Burundi during the time of civil war, I had my first real wrangling with trying to answer that question. The violence, which began in the country’s interior, had caused a migration of thousands to the capital city, Bujumbura, where we were living and pastoring our first church. Within a few weeks of the escalation of fighting, makeshift displaced persons camps were set up in the city. Initially, those in the camps were the elderly, women, and children who had fled the violence. Of course, as the weeks and months went by, those having less than noble characters hid themselves among the innocent making their plight in the camps even worse.

Hunger gripped the city and those fleeing the violence felt it more than most. As it is with most of these types of situations, the NGOs and worldwide community took a long time to respond and it was up to the local community to react – and spring into action we did. The ladies of the church and I, there were only a few of us at the time, decided to pool our resources and cook whatever we could find for the children. At first, we thought our outreach would last only a few weeks as we hoped along with everyone else in the country that things would “cool off” and life would return to normal. Little did we know that this situation would rock on for years to come.

God blessed and we found ourselves suddenly feeding hundreds and thousands of hungry mouths. We worked to bring children’s church lessons to the children as well as finding ways to provide medical care when needed. It’s easy in these situations to get swallowed by the need and allow the pressures of the situation take a front and center position in life. After some time of being witness firsthand to the anguish felt by mothers who watched their children suffer the effects of the war, I found myself pulled into the whirlpool of “why?”

“Why, God, is this allowed to happen?” Became the mantra of my prayers, and it went largely unanswered for a long period of time.

The stress of having to find the answer to that question produced an anger in my heart that I couldn’t immediately shake. It pushed me at first to work harder, which caused me to nearly neglect my own family and health. I became exhausted and felt as if I was the “only one” who cared if the children lived or died. I went to meeting after meeting of NGOs, who by that time had tried to involve themselves in the relief effort going on in the country, and felt I was unheard by those who apparently “knew more” about the situation even though all they did was dictate how to work from their air-conditioned offices surrounded by private security. Meanwhile, the rest of us on the ground scrambled to bring what help we could to the children.

One morning, I went to the local market to purchase some food supplies and while there I saw, for the first time, stacks and stacks of food clearly marked “not for resale – for distribution only” for sale. Incensed, I reported it to the organizations responsible, but there was no change. Those items continued to be for sale in the market and no one took notice. I was disillusioned and disappointed by those saying they wanted to help but only seemed to profit from the pain of the people. It seemed no matter how hard I worked, it wasn’t enough to mean much, adding further complication to my “why?”

Once I grew tired of being angry, tired of asking why and not understanding, I surrendered to God and changed my question from “why?” to “how can I help without being swallowed?” For I came to the understanding that the answers to the “why’s” were so far-reaching that it went beyond my ability to explain:

Why do people hate one another to the point of killing those they hate and their children?

Why won’t more people help?

Why are the poor marginalized?

The answers to those questions lie within the hearts of those committing hate motivated atrocities; there’s no understanding that can be applied to hate. There’s no rhyme or reason to it and if we aren’t careful, we, too, can be “rightfully” infected with a hate for what we cannot understand and, in the end, does that make us any better than they are?

The only answer I have found for hate is love. Loving more, loving extravagantly, loving when it is easy, and when it is hard for love is an easy load to carry. Jesus never asked us to take up something we can’t bear, for He bore it all for us and what He calls us to carry is light in comparison to what this world would lay on our shoulders:

Matthew 11:29-30 NKJ “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

As time has gone on, I have learned to keep reaching out, keep caring, keep loving people even though I can’t understand the motivations behind their situations. I only carry in me a better way to live – through the love of God.

Galatians 5:6 NLT For when we place our faith in Christ Jesus…. What is important is faith expressing itself in love.”

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My Kingdom Go

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“May Your Kingdom come, Your will be done,” is part of a prayer we pray almost without giving thought to its meaning. It sounds as if we are heartfelt in our hope for God’s Kingdom to be revealed in the earth; and perhaps there is a part of us that truly does wish for His Kingdom to come. What we miss when praying this way is that there is something that has to be done away with in order for His Kingdom to come – our kingdoms have to go.

There’s a price to be paid to see God’s Kingdom established in our hearts and that is the dismantling of our own kingdoms. Obviously, our kingdoms do not compare to His in majesty but for some reason, we hold onto them fiercely. Our kingdoms are what we have spent our whole lives building; how can we let go when we have invested so much of our time, strength, and money in their pursuit?

The past week and a half we have spent visiting with our families and churches in South Florida and we have enjoyed every moment. Malawi, where we live and serve as missionaries, is far from Florida. Simply having a few days of uninterrupted time with our loved ones, visiting parents, children, and now our grandchildren, is a gift and we have enjoyed our time thoroughly.

At the same time of our visit, a hurricane named Harvey landed in Houston, Texas, destroying businesses, homes, and lives of thousands in its path. The country mobilized and aid has begun to pour into the city that will take months, if not years, to rebuild.

On the heels of Harvey came another stronger, and potentially life-threatening hurricane named Irma (how they come up with these names is a mystery). Initially, the hurricane seemed to be pointed exactly where we are staying with our family: West Palm Beach, Florida. When it was apparent that Irma was on her way, we spent days preparing for the storm and prayed, in earnest, about what we should do: evacuate or not.

The science of predicting exactly where a hurricane will make landfall is not an exact one. We vacillated between leaving and staying for days until we finally felt God had given us a peace to stay. The hurricane took a slightly different path to what was initially reported. While haven’t been hit directly as was initially reported; we’ve had tropical storm force winds and rain. The power is off, candles are lit, and I’m watching the family play games and pass the time until it is safe to go out, survey any damage left by the storm, and carry on.

We can’t do anything about the storm once it has fallen except sit together, enjoy one another’s company, and trust our Father to cover us in the storm. God has, and always will, find a way to break through into our situations to answer our prayers despite our tendency to drift away whenever the crisis lifts.

I wonder if we have exchanged our faith in God for a faith in what we have accomplished. We have idols of our own making sitting in our living rooms: what we have accumulated through all of our hard work. Rather than giving thanks for God’s gifts, we work to gain what we can apart from God and, when they are torn away in some tragedy, we blame Him.

The storm has now passed and while our power is off and we have incurred some damage, it could have been much worse. The kingdoms of our own making are temporary and can end in an instant. Any security we hope to secure on earth is fleeting, at best. Indeed, may His Kingdom come; His incorruptible Kingdom that cannot be blown away by the winds of a hurricane and whose reward is sure in His hands no matter what we may pass through in this life.

May Your Kingdom come.

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Who Does That?

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As you may, or may not, know, I’m a bit of a misfit. Wherever I go I tend to do the opposite of what others do to fit in. I don’t misbehave on purpose – it’s a special talent that I possess. This talent has been cultivated through years of shifting between cultures. It began years ago (I won’t say how many years ago) as I am born American to Finnish parents, raised in a Finnish community as a child, grew up in South Florida, and moved over to Africa where I have spent most of my life.

Who does that?

I’ve never fully fit anywhere. From the time I was in school, I knew I wasn’t destined for popularity. My parents’ English was lined with a nearly unintelligible accent that made fodder for the bullies. We lived frugally, that itself was a problem in a society that measures its members by what they look like and what they possess. Mom and Dad grew up in war-torn Finland where nothing was ever wasted; their experience obviously affected them deeply. Eating out was something we never did, we didn’t have up to date hairstyles and cool clothes.

School was a chore (imagine asking my parents an English grammar question in high school), life was difficult, and I tried to fit in and be part of the “in” crowd. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that I was never going to fit in. I decided to learn what was acceptable and what wasn’t; I then did my best to fade into the background. It was easier to go unnoticed than it was to be recognized for who I was – a real misfit.

And then I met Jesus. I have a lovely aunt who introduced me to Him and when He and I got acquainted, I found (for the first time) Someone Who accepted me without condition. I became one of those that brought Jesus into every conversation and people slowly adapted to my new and crazy identity.

Unbelievably even those who said they were acquainted with Jesus thought I was “over the top” with my commitment. While I fit with my Lord, I didn’t fit with those who were my new family. I became “that one” that is in every family – you know the one that makes everyone’s eyes roll when they come into the room? My misfit status remained firmly in place.

My hopes and dreams of doing something for God with my life slowly began to stifle under the same kind of pressure of fitting into what is “relevant” in our Christian circles. I tried to fill that mold as well and began to fade into the background of the noise of what was acceptable. It seemed there was no fitting in no matter where I turned.

What to do with me? Someone who was American but not? Someone who loved Jesus but was crazy? Someone who had dreams for a continent and no plan to get there?

There are few emotions that are as painful as feeling misunderstood and I was willing to go to great lengths to avoid that pain. While I had grown accustomed to being a loner, it didn’t mean I enjoyed the feeling. I slowly found myself bending the truth of who God had created me to be in order to avoid the pain of not fitting in. There was a certain level of misunderstanding and rejection I was prepared to endure, but I secretly hoped those feelings would diminish if and when I would ever find someone I could fit in with.

But that was not meant to be – fitting in is not meant to be for any of us. We are not born to fit in; we are born to stand out. We will “amen” to sermons on the subject, we’ll sing songs about being a chosen generation or being brave, but few have to courage required to live our lives boldly for God.

When God breaks into our lives and we let our walls of self-defense come down, it’s as if we undergo a personality change. I take courage in understanding that the Bible is full of misfits who found their fit when they gave up trying to fit in.

Moses didn’t fit into Egypt or Israel, and even when he spoke with God, he tried to find a way out. When he finally gave up, he led millions to freedom.

Caleb’s courage wasn’t welcome. The other spies and the entire nation of Israel rejected his faith to take the Promised Land. But he stuck to his commitment and he did get his mountain.

Esther was a Jewess in a Kingdom that had called for their deaths – but she found a way to gather her courage. She became part of Jesus’ earthly lineage.

Deborah was a prophetess leading a nation where women were second class compared to men. Yet she found the courage to lead the nation to victory.

Jesus who called Himself God, was rejected and crucified for His own. Yet love found a way to break through and the world is now filled with Christians because He lived His life “out loud.”

The common thread woven between all of these (and many others) was their abandon to self and image. The roads they chose were the roads less traveled by for sure, but I wonder what would have the alternative been for them? Lives lived under the microscope to please others and stay out of trouble?

When we live to fit in or please others, it’s much like paying a bribe. You pay once, and you will end up paying again. It’s best never to pay because it’s a bill you end up owing for the rest of your life.

The only One who is deliriously happy with you at all times is your Heavenly Father. God is your Father and His is the identity you possess and fighting to change that identity only serves to frustrate you and hold you back from rising up to who your Father has destined you to be.

What is the worst that could happen? We fear the unknown to the point of hindering us from fulfilling destiny.

What if I fail?

 What if I fall?

 What if I miss it?

 Where will the money come from?

 What if my family doesn’t understand?

Psalm 37:23,24 TLB “The steps of good men are directed by the Lord. He delights in each step they take. If they fall, it isn’t fatal, for the Lord holds them with His hand.”

God is more interested in your getting it right than you are – and He has the power to get you back on track if you take a wrong turn. He’s not in heaven with His charts polling the heavenly host predicting if you will fail or not. He is in heaven’s grandstand cheering us on! He delights in each step we make, even the wrong ones for the wrong ones lead us closer to Him as we find our way in the dark.

It isn’t fatal – it isn’t irretrievable – you can and will get back in step because we are to rise and take our position against our common enemy, Satan. He and his cohorts work to keep us insecure, powerless, fearful, and depressed. Don’t give in to those emotions. That’s not part of the deal!

God has a plan, a marvelous plan for you – do you dare not to fit in with what society says is right and live out loud for Him?

 

 

The God Factor

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“It’s all about who you know.”

That’s what “they” say, whoever “they” are, and I’ve found this statement to be true. Wherever we have lived, we get to know different people in the offices and businesses we frequent. As time passes and we build relationships, I try to see the same person each time I need to visit those places. A friendship of sorts is established and I find my errands to be much more palatable when there’s a friendly face behind the counter.

When we began the long, and sometimes frightening, process of adopting our youngest daughter Andreya, there came a time that we needed a Malawian passport for her in order for us to travel. Her adoption had yet to be finalized and obtaining her passport could have been impossible, had God not intervened. Through a series of events, God gave us favor with an immigration official in the city we were living in at the time, Lilongwe, Malawi, and the unheard of happened – she was granted a passport in just 24 hours. It was a miracle as passports can be held up for months and even years; God just showed up for us.

Fast-forward almost 10 years and we found ourselves in Blantyre, Malawi, planting a new church. We made application to renew our work permits enabling us to stay in the country, and it became apparent that their approval was being delayed. As it is with obtaining passports, it’s not uncommon for work permits to be held up indefinitely. Our temporary permits were valid for only 3 months and time was becoming a critical issue. So we decided to go to the immigration headquarters and find out what was taking so long.

Who did we find had coincidentally been reassigned from Lilongwe to Blantyre? Our contact who had helped us with Andreya’s passport all those years ago sat behind his desk welcoming us. A smile crossed his face as he said he recognized us – even before we recognized him. He looked to Andreya and my husband said, “Here’s the one you helped years ago in Lilongwe,” and a moment was spent giving account of her adoption story to our longtime contact.

You’ve guessed right if you thought that our permits finally did get processed in a reasonable time period. God made a way – and to this day I wonder if this man was reassigned to Blantyre just so he could help us. Yes, I am that convinced that God loves us just that much.

The people we know are more than simple acquaintances or friends to help us socially or emotionally cope with the ebb and flow of life. God connects people on purpose and sometimes those connections are evident, and at other times, they are much more subtle. In fact, I wonder how many of our connections in life go unnoticed by us as to having a “God factor” attached to them. Perhaps only eternity will tell of the puzzle God pieced together in our lifetimes.

As I write this today, Andreya is sitting next to me enveloped in her little girl world of make believe, makeup, and dress up. I look at her little face and find myself wondering what the God connection with her will be? Who will she reach and where will she go? Her older siblings have all made their launch into the world and are making the mark God has destined for them and I wonder where will their connections take them and their children?

I’ve also learned that the connections that bring us places often aren’t what we would think to be the obvious important connections: those with influence and money. God connections often start with ordinary people who lead us to those who can open amazing doors of opportunity. God opportunities are not clothed with money; His opportunities are those that bring us to people, to others. When we look for God opportunities in the form of reaching out to people, God in turn reaches out to us and takes care of our every need. Real value is found in people, not in what they have or what they can do for us; it is for people that Jesus died, not for what they have (John 3:16).

God had Samuel connect David, the unknown shepherd from Jesse’s family, to his destiny (1 Samuel 16:1). Long before that destiny was fulfilled, David was connected to other very normal (some might even call dysfunctional) people whose problems had overwhelmed them (1 Samuel 22:2). Yet this band of dysfunctional outcasts became the foundation for David’s future kingdom and household, and from this household, Jesus was born (Matthew 1:20).

1 Chronicles 14:2 TLB “David now realized why the Lord had made him king and why he had made his kingdom so great; it was for a special reason – to give joy to God’s people!”

God has connections waiting for us just outside our front doors wherever in the world we find ourselves. They may be (and probably are) dysfunctional to some degree, don’t have much to offer, but unbeknownst to them – they are a God connection and have the “God factor” attached to them.

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Dumpster Diving

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As newly-weds, my husband and I decided to apply for our first credit card. This was when having a credit card wasn’t as commonplace as it is today; my kids would call the process “old school.” Long applications had to be filled out by hand at the bank and it would take some time (compared to today’s process) to get approved and actually receive a credit card. We endured everything that was required of us and the day came when, finally, the card came in the mail.

Like most people I suppose, we had a place on the kitchen counter that grew cluttered with the mail and other miscellaneous “paperage.” That place on the counter slowly began to eat away at my inner peace, as at my core I am my mother’s daughter. She was careful to always keep a clean home and instilled in me that same compulsion: if it’s cluttered it must be cleared.

This compulsion, you might call it haste or impatience, has been the source of irritation to my family. Some, I agree, is justified, and some is not. However, the account of what happened during one of my cleaning moments did result in a great amount of stress and dumpster diving.

Let me explain…

The cards came in the mail and we were aware they had arrived and were in the envelope they came in on the counter. Days passed and I put that information in the back of my mind as I was compelled, as if by the Spirit, to embark on “the great clean” of the century. That day nothing escaped my fury as even the oven received a state-of-the-art scrubbing! Proud of myself, I unloaded the last bag of trash into the dumpster outside (one shared by the community we lived in), and sat down for a cup of coffee. My mother would have even declared the place clean and with that thought, I smiled with a bit of smug self-satisfaction.

Later on the next day, my husband looked to the countertop and noticed the customary pile of post had disappeared.

“Where’s the credit card?” he said with an unmistakable tone of worry.

“It was here on the counter in the envelope.” his voice beginning to quiver.

“I don’t know, didn’t you put them away?” came my honest reply.

Thus began the search of the century that ended with my husband standing up in the dumpster for several minutes going through the trash until he found said credit card, still in its original (albeit stained with coffee) envelope. While this happened over 30 years ago, I have yet to cease being reminded of it.

While I was thankful to have the card in hand, in the fury of our search, we ruined my hours-long cleaning effort and I had to clean up all over again.

I was hasty and I blew it.

Psalm 31:22 TLB “I spoke too hastily when I said, ‘The Lord has deserted me,’ for you listened to my plea and answered me.”

We often become impatient with the circumstances of life, we want answers now! Our impatience clouds our ability to see that God’s given us the credit cards already, and He’s paid the bill. They’re on the counter of life, ready to be used to pay off our debts but we seem to have misplaced them, thrown them away in the dumpster. In our haste, we wonder why God hasn’t come through, why doesn’t He see, doesn’t He care? Right when we are sure He has turned His back on us, in spite of our hastily spoken words, He comes through with an answer – and gently hands us the cards we threw away in our compulsion to get things in order.

Yes, we all blow it and say things we shouldn’t and even begin to wonder about God’s love and care for us. While we may fail, we can be encouraged with the knowledge that God’s love and care never fails, in spite of our baseless doubts. He is always watchful over us in spite of what life may throw our way.

Don’t throw away the credit cards just for a moment of apparent clarity – the clarity we create in our haste only lasts for a moment only to be replaced once again by more clutter as life continues to unfold. However, if you do blow it (as we all do) our Father is more than ready to go dumpster diving and answer you.

Yes, He is just that good.

Sometimes You Go Alone

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We’ve all been told, “It’ll get better.” Or, “God will help you through.” Or, my personal favorite, “God never gives you more than you can handle.” My cynical side that I try so very desperately to harness will, when hearing this kind of counsel, internally retort, “Well, it sure feels like I can’t handle it!”

As cynical as I may feel, those answers are true; it does get better, we do make it through, and somehow we handle all that comes our way. The question that begs answering is, “What do we do in the meanwhile as we wait for things to get better?”

I’ve passed through times in my life when I have wondered, like most of us, “Why did this happen and why am I alone? Who will walk with me?” Experiencing those times would be more palatable if we had someone to help shoulder the burden.

Matthew 26:37b NLT “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

Jesus had His moment, one that felt “crushing.” He wanted to have someone walk through that time with Him, and He asked His disciples to “keep watch,” but they failed Him miserably. On two separate occasions during His agony in Gethsemane, He found them asleep (Matthew 26:40,42) even though He had asked them to “stay here and watch with me.”

As the rest of the story goes, Jesus was left totally alone; abandoned by those He had handpicked to lead His church in the future. Those He had healed, raised from the dead, delivered from demonic oppression, were all gone and He walked that road alone. Despite their desertion, He finished His assignment faithfully until the end.

His finishing made me wonder, could it be that the answer to our “crushed spirit” is finishing the assignment He has given us?

Matthew 26:42 NLT “My Father! If this cup cannot be taken away unless I drink it, your will be done.”

Around and around we go in life, facing painful challenges and we go out of our way to avoid the pain, we find shortcuts, to keep us safe. Nobody likes pain; we go to great lengths to avoid it and relieve it. When I gave birth to my children, I welcomed any pain relief offered to me with great joy and if it wasn’t offered to me I begged for it. The problem with relieving pain or taking detours is that sometimes the relief isn’t worth the price paid.

Shortcuts don’t ensure our arrival at our intended destination on time; shortcuts can lead us to nowhere resulting in starting all over again which simply prolongs our process. Instead of avoiding the path and its accompanying pain, it may be better to go through than keep going around in circles only to face the same path ahead of us time after time.

The loneliness in the middle of such a season seems, on the surface, to be meant to harm us and it is often that loneliness that presses us to find a shortcut back to a more comfortable place. Jesus felt and acknowledged that loneliness when He walked through Gethsemane. While it was obvious that the desertion of His disciples was painful for Jesus to experience, He did not use that loneliness as an excuse to abandon His assignment. He knew the only way out of His Spirit being crushed was to go through with his assignment to its completion, to face the desperate moment of death that was facing Him.

John 16:33 CEV I have told you this, so that you might have peace in your hearts because of me. While you are in the world, you will have to suffer. But cheer up! I have defeated the world.”

True peace isn’t the absence of a crushing moment; it is peace in our hearts despite the crush, despite the loneliness. The end of the story for us is not a crushing defeat, but a rousing victory – but to get there, we will sometimes have to go it alone.