Category  |  Life Struggles

The “Hope for a Baby” Tree

After wrapping the tree with clear twinkle lights, I tied pink and blue bows on its branches and christened it our “Hope for a Baby” Christmas tree. My husband and I had been waiting for a baby through adoption for over four years. Surely by Christmas!

Every morning I stopped at the tree and prayed, reminding myself of God’s faithfulness. On December 21 we received the news: no baby by Christmas. Devastated, I paused by the tree that had become a symbol of God’s provision. Was God still faithful? Was I doing something wrong?

At times, God’s apparent withholding results from His loving discipline. And other times God lovingly delays to renew our trust. In Lamentations, the prophet Jeremiah describes God’s correction of Israel. The pain is palpable: “He pierced my heart with arrows from his quiver” (3:13). Through it all, Jeremiah also expresses ultimate trust in God’s faithfulness: “his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (vv. 22–23).

I left the tree standing well beyond Christmas and continued my morning prayer. At last, on Easter weekend, we received our baby girl. God is always faithful, though not necessarily on our timeline nor always according to our desires.

My children are now in their thirties, but each year I set up a miniature version of the tree, reminding myself and others to hope in God’s faithfulness.

On the Wrong Side?

When the bridge to Techiman, Ghana, washed out, residents of New Krobo on the other side of the Tano River were stranded. Attendance at Pastor Samuel Appiah’s church in Techiman suffered too because many of the members lived in New Krobo—on the “wrong” side of the river.

Amid the crisis, Pastor Sam was trying to expand the church’s children’s home to care for more orphans. So he prayed. Then, his church sponsored outdoor meetings across the river in New Krobo. Soon they were baptizing new believers in Jesus. A new church took root. Not only that, New Krobo had space to care for the orphans awaiting housing. God was weaving His redemptive work into the crisis.

When the apostle Paul found himself on the “wrong” side of freedom, he didn’t lament his situation. In a powerful letter to the church in Philippi, he wrote, “I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel” (Philippians 1:12). Paul noted how his chains had led to “the whole palace guard” learning about Christ (v. 13). And others had gained confidence to share the good news of Jesus (v. 14).

Despite obstacles, Pastor Sam and the apostle Paul found God showing them new ways to work in their crises. What might God be doing in our challenging circumstances today?

Don’t Stop Building!

When an opportunity came to take on a new role at work, Simon believed that it was a God-send. After praying over the decision and seeking counsel, he felt that God was giving him this opportunity to take on bigger responsibilities. Everything fell into place, and his boss supported his move. Then things began to go wrong. Some colleagues resented his promotion and refused to cooperate. He began to wonder if he should give up.

When the Israelites returned to Jerusalem to build the house of God, enemies sought to frighten and discourage them (Ezra 4:4). The Israelites stopped at first, but continued after God encouraged them through the prophets Haggai and Zechariah (4:24–5:2).

Once again, enemies came to hassle them. But this time they persevered, knowing “the eye of their God was watching over [them]” (5:5). They held on firmly to God’s instructions and trusted Him to carry them through whatever opposition they’d face. Sure enough, God moved the Persian king to support the temple’s completion (5:13–14).

Similarly, Simon sought God’s wisdom to discern whether he should stay or find a new position. Sensing God calling him to remain, he relied on God’s strength to persevere. Over time, he slowly gained his colleagues’ acceptance.

As we seek to follow God, wherever He places us, we may face opposition along the way. That’s when we need to keep following Him. He will guide us and carry us through.

Hope in the Darkness

According to legend, Qu Yuan was a wise and patriotic Chinese government official who lived during the time known as the Warring States period (475–246 bc). It has been said that he tried repeatedly to warn his king about an impending threat that would destroy the country, but the king rejected his advice. Eventually, Qu Yuan was exiled. When he learned about the fall of his beloved country to the foe he had warned about, he ended his life.

Qu Yuan’s life resembles some aspects of the life of the prophet Jeremiah. He too served kings who scorned his warnings, and his country was ravaged. However, while Qu Yuan gave in to his despair, Jeremiah found genuine hope. Why the difference?

Jeremiah knew the Lord who offers the only true hope. “There is hope for your descendants,” God had assured His prophet. “Your children will return to their own land” (Jeremiah 31:17). Although Jerusalem was destroyed in 586 bc, it was later rebuilt (see Nehemiah 6:15).

 At some point, we all find ourselves in situations that can cause us to despair. It could be a bad medical report, a sudden job loss, a shattered family. But when life knocks us down, we can still look up—for God is on the throne! He holds our days in His hands, and He holds us close to His heart. 

Treasure in a Pumpkin

As a young mother, I was determined to document my daughter’s first year of life. Each month, I took photos of her to illustrate how she had changed and grown. In one of my favorite pictures, she is gleefully sitting in the belly of a hollowed-out pumpkin I purchased from a local farmer. There she sat, the delight of my heart, contained in an overgrown squash. The pumpkin withered in the ensuing weeks, but my daughter continued to grow and thrive.

The way Paul describes knowing the truth of who Jesus is reminds me of that photo. He likens the knowledge of Jesus in our heart to a treasure stored in a clay pot. Remembering what Jesus did for us gives us the courage and strength to persevere through struggles in spite of being “hard-pressed on every side” (2 Corinthians 4:8). Because of God’s power in our lives, when we are “struck down but not destroyed,” we reveal the life of Jesus (v. 9).

Like the pumpkin that withered, we may feel the wear and tear of our trials. But the joy of Jesus in us can continue to grow in spite of those challenges. Our knowledge of Him—His power at work in our lives—is the treasure stored in our frail clay bodies. We can flourish in the face of hardship because of His power at work within us.

Terrible and Beautiful Things

Fear can leave us frozen in our own lives. We know all the reasons to be afraid—everything that’s hurt us in the past, everything that could easily do so again. So sometimes we’re stuck—unable to go back; too afraid to move forward. I just can’t do it. I’m not smart enough, strong enough, or brave enough to handle being hurt like that again.

 I’m captivated by how author Frederick Buechner describes God’s grace—like a gentle voice that says, “Here is the world. Terrible and beautiful things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you.”

Terrible things will happen. In our world, hurting people hurt other people, often terribly. Like the psalmist David, we carry our own stories of when evil surrounded us, when, like “ravenous beasts,” others wounded us (Psalm 57:4). And so we grieve; we cry out (vv. 1–2).

But because God is with us, beautiful things can happen too. As we run to Him with our hurts and fears, we find ourselves carried by a love far greater than anyone’s power to harm us (vv. 1–3), a love so deep it fills the skies (v. 10). Even when disaster rages around us, His love is a solid refuge where our hearts find healing (vv. 1,7). Until one day we’ll find ourselves awakening to renewed courage, ready to greet the day with a song of His faithfulness (vv. 8–10).

Muscling Through

Competitive bodybuilders put themselves through a rigorous training cycle. During the initial months, they emphasize gaining size and strength. As the competition nears, the focus shifts to losing any fat that hides the muscle. In the final days before the competition, they consume less water than normal so their muscle tissue is easily visible. Because of the reduced consumption of nourishment, the competitors are actually at their weakest on the day of competition, despite appearing strong.

In 2 Chronicles 20, we read of the opposite reality: acknowledging weakness in order to experience God’s strength. “A vast army is coming against you,” people told King Jehoshaphat. So “he proclaimed a fast for all Judah” (v. 3), depriving himself and all his people of nourishment. Then they asked God for help. When he finally mustered his military, Jehoshaphat placed singers who praised God at the front of his army (v. 21). As they began to sing, the Lord “set ambushes against the men . . . who were invading Judah, and they were defeated” (v. 22).

Jehoshaphat’s decision demonstrates deep faith in God. He purposefully chose not to depend on his own human and military prowess but instead to lean on God. Rather than trying to muscle our way through the trials we face, may we turn to Him and allow Him to be our strength.

Sky Garden

While in London, a friend arranged for my wife Marlene and me to visit the Sky Garden. On the top floor of a thirty-five-story building in London’s business district, the Sky Garden is a glass-encased platform filled with plants, trees, and flowers. But the sky part captured our attention. We gazed down from a height of over 500 feet, admiring St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower of London, and more. Our views of the capital city were breathtaking—providing a helpful lesson on perspective.

Our God has a perfect perspective of everything we experience. The psalmist wrote, “For He looked down from His holy height; From heaven the Lord gazed upon the earth, To hear the groaning of the prisoner, To set free those who were doomed to death” (Psalm 102:19–20 nasb).

Like the hurting people pictured in Psalm 102, we are often locked into the present with its struggles, “groaning” with despair. But God sees our lives from beginning to end. Our Lord is never caught off guard by the things that can blindside us. As the psalmist anticipated, His perfect perspective will lead to an ultimate rescue that sets free even “those doomed to death” (vv. 20, 27–28).

In difficult moments, remember: We may not know what is coming next, but our Lord does. We can trust Him with every moment that stretches before us.

Riding the Rapids

The rafting guide escorted our group to the river’s edge and directed us all to put on life jackets and grab paddles. As we climbed into the boat, he assigned us seats to balance the boat’s weight, providing stability when we encountered rapids. After highlighting the thrills the watery voyage ahead would hold for us, he detailed a series of directions we could expect to hear—and would need to follow—to effectively steer the boat through the whitewater. He assured us that even though there might be tense moments on the way, our journey would be both exciting and safe.

Sometimes life feels like a white-water rafting trip, one that contains more rapids than we might like. God’s promise to Israel, through the prophet Isaiah, can guide our feelings when we fear the worst is happening: “When you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you” (Isaiah 43:2). The Israelites faced an overwhelming fear of rejection by God as they went into exile as a consequence of their sin. Yet instead, He affirms them and promises to be with them because He loves them (vv. 2, 4).

God won’t abandon us in the rough waters. We can trust Him to guide us through the rapids—our deepest fears and most painful troubles—because He also loves us and promises to be with us.  

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