When Perseverance Ends in Disappointment

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She has fire in her heart.

Some call her competitive, but the longing in her eye seems deeper than wanting to win. The intensity of purpose and the drive to get there — I watch her up close and I study from afar, and I wonder exactly where God will take her with all of this.

But she does like to win.

She once finished 12th out of about 200 runners, and it pained her to not be in the top 10. So she trained by herself after school and brought her ache to the next race. She started out strong — so strong I wondered if her speed would hurt her in the end. But as the two-miles unfolded, it was clear our daughter was the girl in first place.

It was an odd race, for it was co-ed. In all the other middle school cross country meets, the guys and girls ran separately — two races during the one meet. But this day they ran together. I assumed it was simply to be efficient. I assumed it was still really two races going on at the same time with all the runners just woven together.

Assumptions are hard.

As she neared the finish line, I let my heart start to celebrate. “She’s going to be thrilled,” I thought. “She showed up. She didn’t choke on past disappointment. She really is going to win that blue ribbon.”

As she crossed the finish line, a woman handed my girl a tiny square of paper, her place number. She glanced down, chest heaving deep, and crumpled it up. “Is she trying to be humble? Why isn’t she celebrating?”

I moved toward her and was met with a blank face.

“I got 24th,” she said through a clenched jaw.

And indeed she had. I opened the tiny paper, and 24 was written unashamedly in black marker. It was a confusing moment. I went from self-restraint (not wanting to celebrate too early)… to silent, internal cheers… to greeting her with joy… to figuring out how to comfort — all in a matter of two minutes.

We thought she was winning the whole time, for we could only see boys ahead of her. But the runners we ignored suddenly had meaning. They were the ones winning, and we didn’t know. They were her competitors, and we were completely unaware.

All that mental toughness between this race and the last — all the physical endurance of the last two miles — was any of it worth it now?


Have you been there?

Have you moved forward with determination despite resistance? Even when circumstances whispered unanswered questions and you doubted yourself to the core? Have you been running “your race with endurance” only for the story to end wrong?

I’ve seen marriages broken and children wandering and illness that ends in death and unfulfilled job searches and empty cradles after in vitro. I’ve seen re-addiction after recovery and unraveling after remission and disappointment after promises. I’ve seen perseverance end with threats of insecurity and doubt and self-loathing and disunity.

Have you seen that, too?

The disappointment that comes after a long season of perseverance is sometimes harder than tragedy that takes you by surprise. Our expectations get high, too high, and we believe there’s eventually victory for the one with enough grit.


As quickly as our joy unraveled, I heard Him say, “This is about so much more than a race. This is hardly about running at all.” I knew her Maker was right, but I didn’t like His story for our family in that moment. I would have written my daughter’s page differently that day.

“But she persevered, Lord. And she worked so hard. And she hoped.

Maybe those moments — maybe our moments — are really about something else:
… Finding my identity in what Christ did for me on the cross. Period. Instead of achievements.
… Knowing I am loved deeply regardless of what number is scribbled on my place paper.
… Believing the lesson that striving leaves me empty.
… Growing trust instead of resentment.


I ache for the Sutherland Springs community: The loved ones grieving with empty arms… The little ones asking “Why?”… The grandmas and dads and those stuck in mid-life asking “Why” and having no answer to offer themselves… The silence and the forever night.

I wonder if any of the 26 victims were in a season of perseverance before death disrupted their hope. Was anyone battling cancer? Were any digging deep in their hearts to rebuild their marriages? Were any kids enrolled in tutoring to satisfy grade-level standards? What were they all enduring? I’m certain — because I know we live in brokenness — I’m certain some had to have been gathering up courage every day, clinging to a hope we can’t explain. And their perseverance was met with… oh why, Lord?

What now, God?

What now for the hundreds of people who knew them well and loved them through their frail, brave humanity? What now for those left behind facing their own seasons of perseverance?

Hope does not disappoint us… God, help me believe you.


“You keep track of all my sorrows.
    You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
    You have recorded each one in your book.” Psalm 56:8 NLT

I see You’re writing a story with our tears, God. Help us reconcile the confusion. Weave in trust if reconciliation never comes.

“I waited a long time for the Eternal;
    He finally knelt down to hear me.
    He listened to my weak and whispered cry.
He reached down and drew me
    from the deep, dark hole where I was stranded, mired in the muck and clay.
    With a gentle hand, He pulled me out
To set me down safely on a warm rock;
    He held me until I was steady enough to continue the journey again. Psalm 40:1-2

 

Photo by Terry French

Altered Ambitions: When Your Pursuits Leave You Stressed Out

 

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I wonder what I would have done back then.

Would I have heard the counter-cultural man as He promoted turning away from ritual and embracing a repurposed heart? Laying aside the security of rules, clinging to repentance and grace? Grasping the new Gospel so tightly it changed my ambitions and my relationships?

“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,” He challenged.

And He’s still right here — warning against materialism and daring me to release anxiety over what others think.

And I’m still here wondering if He really can be trusted.

“Here is the bottom line: do not worry about your life. Don’t worry about what you will eat or what you will drink. Don’t worry about how you clothe your body… Consider the lilies of the field and how they grow. They do not work or weave or sew, and yet their garments are stunning

Do not consume yourselves with questions… Outsiders make themselves frantic over such questions; they don’t realize that your heavenly Father knows exactly what you need.”

He sees right through me, for I’m the one consumed with questions. I’m the one who over-thinks. I’m the one slipping into that frantic state He warns against.

To ignore my insecurities, I rank myself and those around me. I question His goodness in creating me and writing my story, and I numb my heart with what will not last. I wonder if He’ll really be my Provider for the deepest, most secret needs… Wonder if He’ll really be my Protector, shielding me from all that’s not tangible.

Have you been there?

In that frenzy, when I’m ranking and questioning and doubting, I feel the shame taunting me. I know this can’t be the plan. And then I remember them — the first people whose shame drove them into hiding and made them frantic. With trembling hands, they pieced together the very first articles of clothing to cover their darkness, the very dark He was still warning against in AD 30.

“So if your eye is well and shows you what is true, then your whole body will be filled with light. But if your eye is clouded or evil, then your body will be filled with evil and dark clouds. And the darkness that takes over the body of a child of God who has gone astray—that is the deepest, darkest darkness there is.”

Do you see the irony? The first item humanity created to cover our shame has become an object of worship. Am I so far removed from their utter regret that I forget I’m in the dark?

For some, yes, it’s clothing. For others of us it’s achievement… and travel… and the right body… and control… and sarcasm… and kids who make us look good… and anything that numbs us to the reality we can not face.

Will you brave the dark of your own heart?
Will you pick up your anxiety and worry and misguided pursuits?
Will you throw the mess into the shadow of the cross and wait for healing?

I promise you — He’s right there offering rescue. He’s ready to redeem the darkness in the crevices of your mind and heart that you see no way around. He’s waiting to alter your ambitions, alter your focus.

“He reached down and drew me from the deep, dark hole where I was stranded, mired in the muck and clay. With a gentle hand, He pulled me out to set me down safely on a warm rock; He held me until I was steady enough to continue the journey again.” Psalm 40:2

Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ…


All unidentified scripture in this post is from Matthew 6.
Photo by Drazen Biljak on Unsplash

When You Think God Doesn’t Care: How to Recognize Deception

Deception Original

I see you — running around, doing your work, yearning to live purposefully. I see your deep, deep soul and your mind rich with knowledge. I see you clinging to truth as you remind yourself to hold on, for some days you can feel yourself drifting away.

Does He care? Does He love me? Because if God did, I wouldn’t wake up questioning if this is all worth it. I wouldn’t read about California, and Puerto Rico, and Mexico, and Florida, and Texas. I wouldn’t see my own angst and pain reflected in the eyes of the next generation. I wouldn’t feel forgotten in midlife, and millennials wouldn’t be asking, “What now?”

Yeah, I see you because you’re me.  Continue reading

Join Me For A Discussion on Race and Socio-Economic Differences

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Sunday, October 15, 2017
6:30pm
Greentree Community Church
100 Kirkwood Place
Kirkwood, Missouri 63122


What are the hardest aspects of conversing about race and socio-economic status with those closest to you?

St Louis area friends: Join me for a thought-provoking, yet practical evening hosted by the Biblical Justice and Mercy Team of Greentree Community Church. My friend and colleague Sabrine Rhodes, a cultural responsiveness consultant, will also join me in leading this discussion.

You will be challenged and equipped to speak boldly into hard issues with those close to you. Whether you find yourself in conversations with family living under your roof, extended relatives, or close friends, this Gospel-centered discussion will move you toward self-examination and actively loving God by caring for and respecting all humans made in His image.

All are welcome. Come find your seat at the table and join the conversation.

Who’s Across Your Table? Tips for Conversing During Tense Times

Listening

It was one of those early morning scrolls through Facebook after checking the headlines. First, did anything happen overnight? What do I need to tell my teenagers about? Any natural disasters? Are we safe? Finally my curiosity shifted from global headlines to my own nation and city and eventually toward my own network of people I know personally.

And there it was.

The post was raw and honest and brave, and so there’s no point in my rephrasing my husband’s cousin’s words:

FB Post anonymous

Did you catch it? Continue reading