In Desperate Times . . .

The air was fragrant with the scent of peppermint oil and eucalyptus. I lay under a thick, warm towel, face down. Soft music soothed my frazzled nerves. The therapist’s hands moved along my neck and shoulders, kneading tension from my aching muscles.  

Two weeks earlier, my husband and I had trudged through a bout of COVID. While our illness was mostly mild, the fatigue it brought lingered. Six days along, when we were still weak and vague, an email informed us we needed to move—in just five weeks’ time. Though we barely had energy or headspace to keep our household running, house-hunting and packing were added to our lengthy to-do list.  

After one week of searching with little reward, I was so full of fear and anxiety, I thought my head would burst. If only someone could come and fix everything for me, like mum so often had when I was young. I noticed my mind running to desperate places, secretly wishing I could run away or go to sleep for a month—anything to escape the battle that lay ahead. The fear that gripped me wasn’t based so much on the chance we might not find a house, though that simmered under the surface. It was more that I didn’t think I had what it would take to survive the journey.  

I’ve been through upheavals like this before. Bigger ones, even—like our move 1400 kilometres north from Tasmania three years ago. At that time I saw God lead us so clearly—at every stage I sensed His counsel, encouragement and comfort. This time my mind was so foggy I could barely focus to read my bible, let alone hear His whisper. Even when I did sense what God was saying, I couldn’t grasp hold of the hope He offered.

My body was still unwell. So were my emotions—deep in the slump that sometimes comes with illness. Paranoia, powerlessness, depression and middle of the night panic all had their moments of attack. The littlest trigger set my stomach churning and pain running through my body. I felt like a wreck—a shell of the woman I’d been—completely wrung out. I kept reading, kept praying and journaling, but couldn’t seem to shake off the fear.

On the morning of massage day, I realised I needed to push through and fight. There was no way I could carry on as I was. Mustering all the strength I had, I began speaking aloud God’s promises.

Photo by Michael Block on Pexels

‘God, thank you that you are the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Thank you that you make a way in the wilderness and provide streams in the desert. You open doors no man can shut. You are my shepherd and you go ahead of me to prepare the way. Thank you that when we acknowledge You in all our ways You make our path straight . As we seek first your kingdom, you will add to us everything we need. You know the end from the beginning and you will work all this together for our good.’

With each declaration, a tiny chink was cut in the fear that had imprisoned my mind. This was progress. But it took so much energy I couldn’t sustain it for long.   

‘God,’ I whispered. ‘I can’t do this alone. Please speak. I’m listening.’

Later I lay on the massage table, soaking up every hope-filled lyric in the Christian music I heard. The therapist, a friend from church, started working on my arms, her touch gentle yet firm, her thumbs pressing soothingly on sore spots. 

‘God loves you so much,’ she said, her voice gentle. ‘He has a good plan for you.’

‘Thank you,’ I whispered, her words settling in my heart. ‘I need that reminder.’

She went on massaging, silent for a minute before adding, ‘I believe He’s going to give you a new perspective.’

My heart sighed. Oh, yes, Lord. That’s what I need.

She massaged one of my hands then the other, rubbing in small circles along the muscles between my fingers, relieving tension I hadn’t realised was there. ‘He’s going to help you see your situation from His perspective.’

I felt my spirit lift. Let it be, Lord.

That evening a friend checked in to see how I was via messenger. She wrote, ‘It seems like God is stripping away all the control from you so He has total control—a great thing but a very painful thing.’

Photo by Ran Berkovich on Unsplash

I pondered her words after our conversation ended. She was right. After spending years seeking to rest in God’s goodness, I’d slipped into worrying, imagining all the possible scenarios of how things could play out—mostly what could go wrong. The reality was, no matter how much thought or worry I put in, I couldn’t control the outcome. Only God could give us favour with a home-owner among the sea of applicants. Only He could open up a way for us.

When I went to bed that night, I prayed, Lord, please give me a dream—something so vivid it brings lasting change to the way I think. Early the next morning I woke many times, not with a dream but with a sentence I’d once heard running through my head.

‘Do what you can do and let God do what only He can do.’

Do what I can do. What could I do? I could pray. I could ask others for input, look for suitable houses and get our application documents ready. That was all. Suddenly a burden lifted. All I had to do was fulfil my role.  

The rest was up to God.

That day I started working on a rental application. It was detailed, tedious and took a very long time. When I lowered myself into bed that evening, I opened my current read to see the next chapter’s title. Perseverance.

Ha ha, God. Perfect timing. Okay, I’m listening.

The pages that followed told the story of a man who always quit when things got difficult. He went through a string of failed relationships and lived a restless, miserable life—until he learned to endure the tough patches.   

The next morning as I opened my eyes, another revelation came.

‘This process will be uncomfortable,

but it won’t destroy me.

God will see me through.’

I was struck by a realization as I jotted the words in my journal. My thinking was faulty.

Discomfort would not destroy me, no matter how much it felt like it would.

I had subconsciously agreed with an inner voice that whined, ‘I can’t bear this’. Several times before, that phrase had tripped me up. But I’d never acknowledged its deceptive nature. Only God knew what I could bear, and He would set the limits on how far this journey stretched me. I didn’t need to run or hide or go to sleep for a month. I needed to face and accept this season of discomfort and walk with Him all the way through. He would bring me out the other side. I could endure—if I relied on Him one day at a time.  

A few days later, after a long time studying Proverbs, I sat quietly with my journal and felt God speak these words to my heart.

Enjoy this process (of house-hunting), knowing there will be a good outcome. Choose to enter fully into what I am doing—even when it doesn’t make sense—and know I’ll work good in your heart (and mind) through it.

When you choose to offer your best to a process you’d rather not be in, I do My best work in you.’  

God knew I didn’t want to be in this process. And He was asking me to give my best anyway. He saw the bigger picture and His focus was as much on what He was doing in me as what He was doing for me.

Isn’t that what Romans 8:28-29 tells us? It doesn’t say God works all things together to make our lives comfortable. It says He uses all things—even the really hard things—to mould us into the likeness of Jesus. God’s greatest desire is that we grow into the unique individuals He destined us to be, each walking in His plan—the truly good life. The outcome of the process (though He does provide for our needs, often in amazing ways) isn’t nearly as important as the work He does in us through it.  

There’s only one week now till moving day and our house-hunt isn’t complete. It’s been difficult to stay in that place of quiet trust the last few days. What ifs have started creeping in, whispering fear to my soul. Working through the final edits of this post has been helpful. It’s put the truth before my eyes once more. Though this process feels torturous, God is doing something very good.  

What battle are you facing right now? And how is God working in you through it? Though this patch you’re in may not seem to hold anything you can view as good, if you seek to walk with Him through it, there will be a time where you can.

PS. Two days after completing this, our rental application for a lovely home was approved. Though it’s too long a story to go into now, we know this is the home of God’s choice for us. And we are oh-so-thankful.

‘The righteous cry out and the LORD hears them;

He delivers them from all their troubles.

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted

And saves those who are crushed in spirit.’

Psalm 34:17-18

Photo by Stainless Images on Unsplash

A Way Through the Valley

I sat on the couch and stared blankly out the window, my eyes blind to tiny green shoots sprouting everywhere in the garden—usually a cause for joy. Depression loomed over me like a black-robed villain, pressing down on my soul, while despair tightened its grasp. I was sinking—I could feel it. I leaned forward and put my face in my hands, keenly aware that the divide between me standing firm or falling was so fragile, there was almost no barrier to stop me plummeting.

For a moment, I teetered on the edge, wondering what would happen if I let depression take hold. I was justified, wasn’t I? Wouldn’t anyone be low in my position?

Three years ago, our family uprooted and left our home state of twenty-five years to move north. While we relished being closer to my family and living near the coast, the process of establishing our career paths and forming new friendships was slow, hampered further by the 2020 lockdown.

Once COVID restrictions eased, we dusted ourselves off and ventured forward again, keen to build on the small foundations we’d already laid. Doors of opportunity began to open and our sense of belonging was growing when, wham! Our second lockdown hit. This one lasted much longer and its impact reverberated all the way to the laws of our nation. This time, along with rules and restrictions a clear message was proclaimed, challenging our ideas about what matters most and dictating the way we should view and treat people. Like the ripples of an earthquake, we felt its effects as key aspects of who we were as Australians began to shake.

Normally, I’m an upbeat girl, ready to believe the best of people and hold hope of better days beyond a trial. It’s rare for me to find myself in a place so deep and dark, I can’t see any way out. Lately, though . . . well, it’s been tough. I won’t go into detail beyond saying there are significant changes happening in my sphere and I’m facing heartbreaking loss in several areas, particularly relationships. When I see the people around me also struggling, my grief is multiplied.

We didn’t see this upheaval coming, nor can we see where it will take us. Almost every day the information seems to change. If ever there was a time to be confronted with our powerlessness, it’s now. We cry out to God and use the strength He gives to make the best of our situation and support others. Sometimes, though, the constancy of the battle wears us down and its length stretches us far beyond what we think we can bear. Hope fades and the gloom becomes so heavy, it immobilizes us. That’s where I found myself on the couch that day—staring into a darkness so thick, it seemed as if it could swallow me whole. Oh, God.

Then, softly, like a light shining through the fog, I sensed an echo of my own words from a couple of months back:

Photo by Johannes Plenio on Pexels

‘The hardest of times became the high points in my life because of what God did through them.’

Those were words of hindsight, reflections on the darkest seasons in my journey. Through trauma, anorexia, relationship strains, burnout, life-threatening illness and tragic loss I’d felt God’s loving presence so close, known the wisdom of His counsel and seen His goodness poured out, even in the littlest details.

The hardest of times can become the best of times? Could that really be true in this situation?

Surely not this time, God. This is too big, too hard.

His response? You have a choice.

I paused, breathing deep. I did, didn’t I? I could let myself be pulled into the vortex of despair, or I could choose to put my hope in God and believe He would turn all of this—somehow—for good. Sitting up, I rubbed my hands against my legs and released a slow breath. I knew my emotions were shaky, far too weak to leap all the way from hopelessness to instant joy. I had a journey ahead—and from my former times of struggle I knew the steps I needed to take:

Photo by Hudson Hintze on Unsplash
  1. I asked for help

I picked up my phone and sent messages to my connect group leader, my church prayer team and a bunch of close friends, telling them how low I was and asking them to pray.

God puts us in community for our good. When we feel like we’re drowning, He urges us to confide in others, allowing them to lift us with their encouragement and prayers.  

‘Admit your faults to one another and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and wonderful results.’ James 5:16 TLB

2. I switched off the noise

Some words I’d been listening to offered hope. Others gave interesting information but stirred up anxiety and despair. I chose to switch off the second set.

When our emotions are too frail to deal objectively with negativity, we need to be vigilant, setting limits to protect our mind and heart.

‘Fix your thoughts on what is true and honourable and right and pure and lovely and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.’ Philippians 4:8 NLT

3. I simplified

I took a step back and chose to simplify what I could—clearing out clutter, putting aside big projects, giving myself time and space to rest.

Weary hearts and minds are easily overloaded. Sometimes we need to slow the pace for a while and just do the basics.

‘There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven.’ Ecclesiastes 3:1

4. I fixed my eyes

Once some of the mental and physical clutter had been cleared out, it was easier for me to define my focus. Again and again, I felt God urging me, ‘Fix your eyes on Me.’ So, again and again, I did. And every time I looked to Him, He brought new perspective to everything else.

No circumstance, person, disease or government determines the course of our lives. Above all, God is in control—and He is a good, loving Father.

‘Be still and know that I am God;

I will be exalted among the nations,

I will be exalted in the earth.’ Psalm 46:10

5. I nourished my spirit

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

I spent extra time in God’s presence each morning, journaling and sitting quietly, chewing over portions of scripture and writing down verses He seemed to highlight. Like a starving child desperate for good food, I devoured every word that brought truth and perspective. Through the day I fed on the wisdom of others, listening to sermons and reading articles that built my faith.

God’s word is our food, His Spirit our life-giving water. To gain the strength we need for the path He’s marked out for us, we need to eat and drink daily from His provision.

‘When your words came, I ate them;

They were my joy and my heart’s delight . . .’ Jeremiah 15:16

6. I remembered God’s faithfulness

One day I listed in my journal the many trials of my past, each one so difficult I’d wondered if they would ever end. I remembered what God did, the profound truths He taught me and the way He led me all the way through—making me richer and wiser through the process.

The trials we face don’t last forever. They have a beginning and an endpoint. How we come out of them depends on how we go through them. If we’re willing to yield to God’s refining and receive His guidance on the way, He’ll work it all for good in our lives.

‘Consider it pure joy . . . whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.’ James 1:3

7. I let go

Finally, after dealing with all the other issues, I realised how entangled I’d become in all my imaginings of what might or might not happen. My attempts to figure and plan had woven a tight web around my soul, pinching me with disappointment and despair whenever circumstances didn’t work out as I’d hoped.

God alone could see the future.

Just as He was with me now, He would be with me in the days to come, supplying all I needed at every point along the way. To try to do His job was a waste of time and energy.

So, I surrendered.

I laid down my need to know how God was going to work everything out.

I chose to trust Him, believing He would bring me through and take care of me on the way.

I chose to take one day at a time, fixing my eyes on His face, following His nudges and giving my best to the people around me.

Scrawling that prayer of surrender in my journal brought great release, lightening the burden I’d been carrying and giving me freedom to focus on each day as a gift. It didn’t fix everything—our world is still in turmoil. But I find I’m more able to manage the fluctuations between anxiety and confidence, sadness and thankfulness by choosing to stay anchored in the truth that is stronger than my feelings:

This season won’t last forever.

God’s promises are true.

He is with us and, if we keep our eyes on Him, He’ll show us the way through—choice by choice—for however long it takes to come out the other side.

Photo by Chang Duong on Unsplash

And when we emerge from this battle,

we’ll be closer to God,

stronger in His truth and

more confident in His sufficiency

than we were at the beginning.

‘And we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.’ Romans 8:28

When the Straight Path Takes an Unexpected Turn

I gripped the pages with trembling hands, reading and re-reading the words that had made my heart plummet. This was my final evaluation, a summing up of who I was as a twenty-seven year old woman. How could it be that my time at this place was ending on such a bad note?

I’d spent the past two years at a bible college in Tasmania, living in close community with staff, their families and other students—working, studying, eating, sleeping, laughing, singing, crying and praying together. This well-regarded training centre was not merely a place for academic learning. It was a pressure cooker, a refining fire where the jam-packed schedule and melting pot of cultures and personalities drew our well-hidden flaws to the surface.  

Every four months, each student met with a staff member to reflect on our progress and pray over any areas of struggle. As part of that meeting, we reviewed a checklist—already completed by staff—which offered detailed feedback on our character. The form in my hands that December morning was my final checklist, my graduation ‘reference’.

Up till that moment in my life, ticks always meant I’d done something right. On the form I was holding, most of the ticks affirmed positive attributes—as they had on my prior reviews. My eyes drifted over them quickly, then came to a screeching halt when they saw ticks beside comments like, ‘Somewhat over-emotional,’ and ‘Struggles with change’. To me, those ticks might as well have been glaring red crosses. If the staff who had journeyed with me over the past two years chose to highlight these flaws so late in my training, they must have felt they had potential to impact on the years that followed.

How right they were.

The ten months leading up to that day in early December had been one long roller-coaster ride as I began a wonderful relationship with my now husband and quickly became engaged. Swirling inside me was a dizzying mix of blissful dreaming and sheer terror. Along with the joy of beginning life with this man came the need to let go of my carefully formulated plans for the future. Just five weeks after our graduation, Mark and I would marry. Beyond that, our future was unclear.  For me, that was a very scary prospect.

My growing-up years were as firm and steady as a hundred-year-old oak. Almost all my family’s favourite memories were made in the same house at the end of the same quiet street in the same tiny Sydney suburb where my parents still live. We holidayed in a predictable pattern, heading inland for a dose of farm life at Easter and driving a few hours north in September to swim, fish and sunbathe. My parents followed consistent routines in what time we ate dinner, what days the lawns were done and what tv shows we watched each night. Life was stable and predictable and that gave me a great sense of security. It was no wonder uncertainty made me nervous.

The funny thing was, the closer I grew to God, the more change He brought into my life. The idea of living in total abandon was alluring—I wanted to follow God’s call, not shrink back from His purpose for my life. Yet every time He led me into something new, the drastic changes required had me panicking, wondering if I’d cope. He led me to leave my family and friends to look after orphan babies in Taiwan for six months, spend some time with missionaries in Africa, move to Tasmania to study, marry right after graduating, start a family as soon as we married, homeschool our children for more than a decade, move house six times, move interstate again to an unfamiliar region—this time with three of our four children in tow, unveil my secrets in a memoir and publish it for the world to read . . . and the list continues to grow.

Photo credit Esther Brown

There’s a little habit I’ve noticed I slip into whenever I face major change. I grab onto control wherever I can. It’s kind of a battening down of the hatches ready for a storm—probably in an attempt to control the storm roaring inside me. Thirty years ago my desperate clutching became self-destructive when I focused all my energies on extreme dieting. These days, through God’s healing, it manifests in smaller, more constructive ways. I become more determined to keep the house tidy and the day-to-day routines flowing smoothly. It’s my way of fostering a sense of security, despite the upheaval going on in other areas.  

A few weeks ago, I realized I was doing this again and stopped to ponder why. There were staff changes happening at work, my responsibilities were increasing and my husband’s schedule was becoming crazy-hectic. Then came some news from my publisher that meant my book would soon be distributed a little differently. These changes, while challenging, offered potential for good results. But none of them were expected—and I was thrown. I thought, after our crazy COVID year, my life was finally settling down to a manageable rhythm. Yet, everything was still changing and my sudden fussiness about the house showed I wasn’t coping.

I kept telling God I was scared of being overwhelmed and asking Him to give me strength and show me His way through, while on the inside, some part of me was bucking against the whole situation. Why am I always having to change and adapt, Lord? Can’t everything settle down now?

When I finally stopped talking long enough to listen, here’s what I felt God speak to my heart:

“Trust Me. I love you and I am working all this for your good. Every change has a purpose and is set to move you forward. Even closed doors are part of the forward progression, re-directing your course in line with My plans.

None of the journeys of My people have been straightforward. All have had unexpected turns and winding convolutions. It’s all part of the mystery and wonder of adventuring with Me, of learning trust and dependence and security, even when you can’t clearly see the way ahead. Those times when you think you’re settled on a certain course, then everything suddenly changes, confront you with the fact that you’re not in control—you’re not God. They bring you back to that place of child-like dependence, of thankfulness for every provision, every reassurance. And they reveal to you that I am well able to fulfil My plan, even through a different avenue than what you envisioned.”

It’s hard to describe the peace that came with that shift in perspective. Of course, God was working it all for good. Wasn’t that always His way? Every change He’d led me into so far had come with great cost, yet such richness of His presence and goodness that, in hindsight, they became the high points of my journey with Him.

So, again, I made a choice to embrace the adventure, knowing that with it comes growth. It’s all worth it. And really, life would be very dull without God’s unexpected turns. Those ‘surprises’ stretch us and take us to a place of greater intimacy with Him, greater thankfulness and ultimately, greater joy.

‘I will lead the blind by ways they have not known,

along unfamiliar paths I will guide them;

I will turn the darkness into light before them

and make the rough places smooth.

These are the things I will do;

I will not forsake them.’

Isaiah 42:16