When the Anchor is Secure, But the Ship is Falling Apart

Copy of When It Is well with your soul, but not the rest of you-2

“I just want something to hang my hat on!” I whined to my husband. The funny thing is, before that moment, I’d probably never uttered that phrase in my entire life. I definitely wasn’t wearing a hat. This quarantine seems to be leading us to say and do new things.

But, I meant it. I was telling my husband that I was having a rough day and felt sad about not having plans I could look forward to and count on.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve looked forward to things. I’m not just the type of person who makes plans and puts dates on the calendar, but one who truly and enthusiastically looks forward to those things.  You could say I hang my hat, and my hope, on what’s to come.

And to be honest, that has been a difficult aspect of this current season for me. Because right now, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, I’m not sure what I can look forward to. What plans can I really count on? Where can I hang my imaginary hat?

I am in a mental void of sorts. What I’m missing is hope.

The funny thing is, my eternal hope is strong and secure. I long for Heaven and truly trust God in the midst of this pandemic. I know that He is in sovereign control, and deep down, that is all I need for peace and hope. It really is. But in the day-to-day temporary and earthly moments, I am struggling.

I’ve thought about this a lot, trying to make some sense of it. I feel guilty that I struggle when so many others have circumstances much worse than my own. I feel guilty that I struggle because there are so many blessings in my life. I feel guilty when I struggle because I do have such wonderful, secure, eternal hope. What is my problem?

But in the course of my struggle, when I’m being honest with myself about my feelings and “humanness,” several passages from the Bible come to mind. They help me put a mental picture to my issues, and perhaps fill up the void I’ve been experiencing with some clarity.

One passage is Acts chapter 27. I recently read and discussed this passage via Zoom with my Bible Study Fellowship group. We recapped the facts first: Paul was a prisoner who was being taken to Rome via sea for trial. On the way, a “northeaster,” a hurricane force wind, came upon them and the whole crew, including the other prisoners, thought they were going to die. They had tried several things to save themselves. They had run ropes around the ship to attempt to hold it together, they had thrown down the anchor hoping it would keep them from hitting a sandbar, they had thrown their cargo overboard, and after those efforts failed, they lost their temporary and earthly hope.

Then, Paul encourages them by telling them, “…not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed.” He goes on to explain that the night before, an angel had stood beside him (I like that detail, it’s comforting!) and had given him a message of hope.

“Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.”

Paul then tells the crew, “So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me. Nevertheless, we must run aground on some island.” (Acts 27:22-26)

They are to take courage, if they stay with the ship they will be saved. But this is not a time when Jesus calms the storm. This is a time when the storm keeps raging and Jesus saves those who are in the midst of it.

As we discussed the passage, I pictured the scene in my mind, and honestly, it had me on the verge of seasickness. I could feel the ship rocking, the pounding waves, and the relentless noisy wind. I would have hated those conditions! Compared to my current circumstances it’s quite the contrast! My “ship” is a comfortable house, firmly planted on the ground, stocked with food, and not containing prisoners, but my loved-ones. Yet, my temporary and earthly hope has been shaken. I am continually disappointed when plans are “thrown overboard” and lost. I want something tangible to hang my imaginary hat upon, and yet those things are being blown by the relentless winds of change.

My eternal hope is secure, yet my earthly hope is shaken. This is a time when the storm keeps raging and Jesus saves me in the midst of it.

This brings me to another passage of Scripture, Hebrews 16. In this passage, God is talking about His promises to us, and how they are trustworthy. He will not change or let us down. Verse 19a says, “ We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.”

It seems we’re back to the ship analogy. The anchor represents our hope. My eternal hope is what holds me safely and keeps me where I need to be. But I realize that even when an anchor is thrown out, the ship is still tossed about. The storms of life can still cause pounding and pain and lead to struggles with temporary and earthly hope. This is what I’m experiencing now, as I try to hang my imaginary hat on something that will be rock solid. It’s not working because I’m being tossed about by the winds of change and confusion and unknown. I’m feeling a bit seasick.

But just like Paul and his shipmates, I must stay with the ship to be saved, but I may experience some pain while I wait.

My eternal hope in Christ is secure. The anchor holds and that will not change. However, my earthly ship is getting a little beat up right now. I think it’s okay to admit that. I think it’s okay to feel a little sick about it. Proverbs 13:12 says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”

So, in this temporary and earthly storm, there is no perfect trite answer that’s going to make it all better. It’s not looking like one of those moments where Jesus says, “Peace, be still,” and it’s just over and everything is calm. (Mark 4:39). Instead, it looks like our ship is getting pretty tattered. There is no earthly place I can hang my hat right now and be certain it is there to stay. No, the ship is being tossed and thrown about and it’s rough. At times I think I will lose my hat, and my lunch, over the edge.

But I’m going to stay with the ship. My anchor is secure. My eternal hope will not disappoint me. And I can take courage that God is with me, right beside me. And I’ll forget about my hat for a while and instead, lean my head on Him.

 

 

“But It’s Not Like Last Time!”: Finding Joy in Unmet Expectations and Change

Remember this?

Her face was red and wet with tears. Her fists were clenched and she was shaking her head spastically making her blonde hair flail around her head. She continued to whine and complain, but I could barely understand her words through her deep sobs. She was having a full-fledged meltdown.

Baggage was to blame.

No, not figurative baggage, as in difficult life circumstances that travel with us from our pasts into our future, I mean baggage, as in, our suitcases.

My 9-year-old daughter, Kenzie, was sitting in the one back row seat of our van that we had not folded down so as to have more room for our luggage. The van was still snuggly parked in our garage, and we were testing out the seating arrangements for our twenty-hour drive to Florida. This would be our second year taking a Spring Break vacation as a family of five. There was a lot of stuff shoved into our minivan: golf clubs, suitcases, beach chairs, snacks. Kenzie was surrounded by all of it in this trial run of making sure we could get everything in the van, including the kids.

Kenzie wasn’t crying because she was crowded or uncomfortable, she was crying because the suitcases were not close enough to her.

Sob. “Last year when I sat here the suitcases were right up against me!” Sob. “That was one of my favorite parts of the drive.” Sob. “I want it to be just like last year!” Wail.

There are moments in parenthood where you lose your cool. There are also moments when you’re overjoyed with your child. Then there are moments like this one when you’re just plain confused.

“So you’re telling me that you’re throwing a fit right now because the golf clubs are closer to you than the suitcases?” I said with a bit of a growl in voice.

Sob. “Yes! I want the suitcases to be closer to me so it’s just like last year!”

And thus began year two’s vacation where we frequently heard the phrase, “but last year we ___________ (fill in the blank).

My kids are huge fans of tradition. They savor life and enjoy each season and activity that comes with it. Each fall, they want to make a trip to the same apple orchard. Each Christmas, they want to hang the garland on the banister just like we did the year before. They love each tradition and have big hopes, expectations, and emotions involved in each one.

Speaking of apple orchards… the apple has not fallen very far from the tree. I wish I could say my husband was the tradition-lover who has thus modeled big feelings toward repeating expectations, but he ain’t that tree, folks.

I’m going to have to take the blame on this one. This baggage comes with me.

I love tradition, and I have a lot of hopes riding on expectations. And for many reasons, I’m going to say that’s a fine way to live. We tradition-lovers are also big on noticing and appreciating things, and we are often full of gratitude. If I do say so myself, we can be really lovely people to be around when traditions and plans go as scheduled.

But hitching our hopes to tradition and expectations can sometimes lead to a bumpy ride when plans come unhinged.

Over the years, I’ve had to learn how to recalibrate when it comes to traditions and expectations. Just as an infant is trained to self-soothe when she cries in her crib and no one comes to pick her up immediately, I’ve learned to self-soothe when expectations turn into disappointments. I’ve come to understand that joy can still be found in the changes, even if joy seems to be wearing a disguise.

Our first year in Florida, we went to a beach on a beautiful intercostal waterway where we found about a dozen whole sand dollars. It was amazing, and the kids loved these fragile sea treasures. But on our second trip, when we returned to the same beach, the wind was strong and the choppy water churned in a way that made it impossible to find any sand dollars. The kids were super disappointed.

But, as we walked along a different beach, we found some really cool shark teeth, a treasure we hadn’t found the year before. I capitalized on this and starting saying a five-word phrase each time one of the kids, or myself, would let disappointment creep in over a failed expectation or change.

Sand dollars and shark teeth.

Guys! Think about it! Both are treasures! So we didn’t find sand dollars this year, kids. But, we found shark teeth! How cool is that? It doesn’t have to be just like last time to be good.

“But last year ate at that one restaurant that had the popcorn shrimp!”

Sand dollars and shark teeth.

“But last year we made those apple pies!”

Sand dollars and shark teeth.

“But it’s our tradition to have cinnamon rolls every Christmas morning!”

Sand dollars and shark teeth.

And this doesn’t just help my kids deal with changes and unmet expectations. It helps me!

When my second book launched and it didn’t go the same as the first book had, I repeated “sand dollars and shark teeth” in my mind often. It was a mantra to remind myself that it didn’t have to be just like last time to be successful or good.

When my child’s schoolteacher didn’t run their classroom the same way my older child’s classroom was operated when they were in that same grade, I had to recalibrate. Wait, I thought I knew what to expect and how this was going to work! But it’s okay. Sand dollars and shark teeth.

When holiday plans changed last minute due to illnesses or activities beyond my control my gut reaction was, “this won’t be as good as last year.” But maybe it was. We made new memories! Sand dollars and shark teeth.

I’m going to be honest, Kenzie’s meltdown over not sitting close enough to the suitcases was a little over the top for me. I did not initially understand her response and I got pretty upset with her.

But after a week of finding zero sand dollars and realizing that unmet expectations and change were the reason for her tears, I understood a little more. I didn’t let her off the hook for behaving like she did, but I file the realization away in my mind.

“But, it’s not like last time!” can be baggage that travels with each of us. I get it. I’m a frequent flier in this club. But just because it’s different, changed, or not what we expected doesn’t mean it can’t still be good.

Sand dollars and shark teeth.

Tuck that phrase away in your baggage.

One of those days.

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Yesterday, before the sunrise, my oldest child stood in front of his middle school peers and shared his story. The Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) group meets once a week in the cafeteria before the first bell of the school day. One Wednesday each month they combine with another middle school FCA in town. They join their groups together for fellowship, fun, and free breakfast.

Yesterday was one of those days.

Karson was asked to share about his cancer. How he fought leukemia from the age of two to the age of five and-a-half. How before his peers met him in their Kindergarten classrooms and the elementary playground, he’d spent most of his days too sick to play with other kids.

How he’d received over three years of chemotherapy. How he was given steroids that made him crazy with hunger and then how he was required to fast for spinal tap procedures. How he ate more in one day as a toddler than most teenage boys do in two. How his medicine made him feel itchy, and yucky, and isolated. How he not only survived it all, but now is tall, and happy, and healthy.

He’s here.

And he’s willing to share at an FCA meeting on a cold, dark, Wednesday morning.

And my husband, who helps lead FCA and heard our son share, told me later that Karson’s message had two main points.

1- God loves you no matter what you’re going through – even if you don’t have it figured out.

2- We can have hope and joy because Jesus made it possible to spend eternity in Heaven.

And I can’t see straight as I type this because of the tears in my eyes.

Because I remember the days of being up before the crack of dawn too. Not for FCA groups, but for loading into the car with a very sick little bald boy who needed to go the hospital to get chemo to help keep him alive. How some days my knees could barely hold my own weight as I watched those spinal tap procedures and blood transfusions. How we didn’t know if he would live. How we didn’t know what the long term effects of his treatment would be even if he did. How we were told he would likely have stunted growth, learning disabilities, and coordination issues. And how we fought, and loved, and prayed.

And now I hear of him standing there; tall, and smart, and smiling. Telling his peers of the true hope they can cling to in this life.

And the tears run down my cheeks as I take it all in.

He’s here.

Yesterday was one of those days.

One of those days when you feel like you see the light pierce through the darkness.

When you remember that the sun will rise again.