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Weaving the Tapestry of my Life

Every two years, the city center in Brussels becomes a flower carpet for a just weekend. The designers know what they are doing. In the City Museum adjacent to this, we happened upon an exhibit on Renaissance tapestry making. Those guys knew what they were doing, too. 

There are six hours a week that all of my children are being educated or cared for in a school setting this year. This is a first for me. I've been nearly delirious with relief for months.

I've enjoyed the relief. I've enjoyed resting and having the change of pace. I've enjoyed greeting the kids with a big hug as they get home.

Just relaxing and enjoying the situation is hard for me to do. I want to know the next thing. I used to sit on my dorm room bed and use the undergraduate catalog to plot out precise paths to graduation...if I take this five quarters from now, I can minor in this and be set up to get a job in March of that next year....unless I want to major in that instead. In which case, I need to take...but if I just take 23 credits instead of 16, I could do both!

Six hours isn't very many, but I feel like I ought to take advantage of them. More than that, I feel like I ought to take advantage of the hours I anticipate having in the next ten to thirty years. 

What is my life supposed to look like now that no one needs me to get them dressed? What should my time be filled with? What ought to be my first and highest priorities? What does it mean to be a Christian woman, here in America, here in my life-situation? So many people are doing so many different things. Who shall I imitate?

I am blessed with so few restraints, a supportive spouse, a solid education, financial stability. There are so many options that I sometimes feel almost paralyzed about whether or not the route I’m on is good enough. Is God going to be disappointed with what I accomplish or fail to accomplish? Will I be disappointed, even if He's not--and does it matter?

Am I meant to go out there and change the world in a meaningful way? Is it even possible, and should I want to? How would I go about it? Does it have to be at the expense of my loved ones?

Or, I wonder, perhaps I should find some way to contribute to my household’s income right now--or maybe I need to find a career for later? Should I go to graduate school because I was a good student? Should I “donate” my plasma for quick cash now, because I could? Should I be the ultimate volunteer with every organization I like, or should I just say no to most every opportunity so I can focus on mopping my floor and “creating a haven” for my family? Or am I supposed to do a little of all of these?

And what about all those things I used to think about being an older woman helping younger women? Am I about to miss the junction that was going to take me to something meaningful? My heart and my mind start spinning pretty fast these days as soon as I get going.

My last piece of writing brought me to Hebrews 13:5. I like to keep reading past the target verse to see how it fits in with the whole passage. Here's what I read:  

[Heb 13:5-8 NIV] 5 Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." 6 So we say with confidence, "The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?" 7 Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
Then I sometimes paraphrase what I read to myself: 
Stay free of loving money and be content with what I have, knowing that God promises to not leave or forsake me. I can say confidently, "The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?" I can look to the good examples before me, the example of people (our leaders) who spoke the word of God to me. I can take encouragement from their presence or the memory of the outcome of their way of life (Hebrews 13:7)...

Wait. I just saw something here that I hadn’t seen before. Hebrews says that we are to remember the leaders, consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.

Did you catch that? We imitate their faith, not necessarily their way of life! So this means that if a person is a godly example in your life, that’s awesome—but that your life doesn’t have to look like theirs. Rather, you model your faith on their faith. I was so surprised by this that I looked it up in many different translations. Unsurprisingly, it’s still the same idea. We consider the results of their way of life, and imitate the faith. We don’t imitate the life itself. God can weave many different kinds of pictures into the tapestries of our lives, and it will have still been His good work. 

Can I rest in faith? Just because so many godly women I’ve known and respect have been homeschool moms doesn’t by itself mean that I need to homeschool my kids forever. (More on that major change in my life another time). Or just because I’m seeing other godly women working, creating, laboring, or providing for their families doesn’t mean by itself that I  shouldn’t be at home just hanging out. I’m supposed to imitate their faith. They love Jesus, and they’re trying to serve him faithfully. Let me imitate that more than imitate them.

That makes sense, right? Because Jesus is universal, but cultures aren’t. We serve God in the way he seems to have called us in our given situation. Does that mean there aren’t moral absolutes—things a believer absolutely ought to do or not do? Of course not. But it does mean that those things may be much fewer and farther between than American church culture says.
But the passage says, “Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, and today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). He transcends circumstances, cultures, and emotions, and He’s promised to be with me. Even if I blow it. Even if I make all the wrong choices regarding all these things.

Maybe rather than trying to figure out what I should be doing, I can consider more the posture of my heart right now. I can just be for a bit--maybe I can broaden out the idea of being content with what I have and just relax in my heart. I can consider my circumstances and what a faith-filled response to it might be rather than putting pressure on myself to cook up a thirty-year plan. I can put all these worries on my open hands and offer them up to God, who has promised never to leave me or forsake me. I don't know what picture God is weaving in the tapestry of my entire life. Let me be okay with that and trust Him right now for today, tomorrow, and forever.  I can know that I have nothing to fear, and that Jesus isn’t changing. He isn’t in a hurry.

Prayer Even for People Who Do Not Pee Alone, Part 2

If I wait for the perfect moment of solitude for something spiritual to well up inside me....I'm going to be waiting for a long time. Better to see if I can enjoy it as it is. 
(This is part 2 of these thoughts.) I was just saying how my prayer sometimes is just me holding up my play-doh-of-anxiety filled hands and asking God please to say something about it. Then, if I've heard something that seems like it could be God saying it, I can follow that up with a sense of purpose. 

Here's the summary of how I will not leave you nor forsake you unpacked for me recently. 

[Joshua 1:5-9 NIV] 5 No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. 6 Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them. 7 "Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. 8 Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. 9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go."

Let's consider the context. This is a passage where the Lord is speaking directly to Joshua as he assumes leadership of the Hebrews. He’s exhorting Joshua as he prepares to enter the land God promised to give them. Is it appropriate then to apply it to myself and take encouragement? I think so, yes, in that Joshua was a God-follower, and so am I. Joshua is exhorted to “Be strong and courageous” and also given the resource to make that happen—“the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” The strength and ability comes from God being with him. 

He’s exhorted to be strong, to be courageous, to keep on the path carefully that Moses set out, to remain tied to God’s word and be careful to keep it, to not be afraid or discouraged, because God will be with Him wherever he goes. All of these things I can take strength from as pertains to my issue. I can also turn them to prayer, just as I'm reading them. "God, help me to be strong and courageous. Help me to stay on the path you've set for me. Help me to love your Word more and obey it. Encourage me, God. I'm scared. I'm worried. Thank you for going with me. Help me not be afraid."  I'm doing it! I'm praying about it!

This would be enough to be awesome. But then I remember from a talk I heard in my college years that that’s not the only time “I will never leave your nor forsake you” comes up. Blueletterbible.org helped me find it—in Hebrews 13.

 [Heb 13:5-8 NIV] 5 Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." 6 So we say with confidence, "The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?" 7 Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Phrases like this one can lead me down other bunny trails of truth that are worth an exploration.

In this case, the first is the nature of God that’s behind the promise not to leave me. I know already that God is love because I’ve been listening to Seeds Family Worship—The Character of God, which I highly recommend. It's what's been playing in my headphones while I have been working on writing this. “So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love!” (1 John) 

When I hear God saying in the scripture, “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” I can know that it’s grounded in love, not just in I'm-gritting-My-Teeth-to-put-up-with-these-sinners-that-I’d-rather-ditch. I find some freedom in that, and it’s worth dwelling on. When I say I know this truth about God already, I mean that I’ve heard it and assent to it. However, the truth’s finding its way into the depths of my heart and working itself out into my every action and emotion—well, that is going to be an on-going process.

Here’s another bunny trail off of the last one: I want to understand the depths of the love God has for us. (Ephesians 1) It’s deep, and knowing it is important to my life as a believer—that’s why the apostle Paul offers prayer there that we would know these things. I can meander down that path for a long time, too. 

Having gone down both of those trails for a bit, I come back to the original idea. I want to realize that God is with us. That he is with us and will not forsake us. That am part of us, so I can say, "God, you say you are with me and will not forsake me. But I'm feeling____ right now, please help me." Even when I feel afraid, I can trust in God (Psalm 56:3). In faith I can step right into Hebrews 13:6 and “say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?’” I can pray, "Thank you, Lord, for being my helper. Give me eyes to see your help, and not to be afraid of people." 

Finally, I remember Jesus himself promised this to us in Matthew 28:20, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” 

So, I hadn't made a big quiet time and space for connecting with God about my issues. I should have, but God has dealt graciously with me. He came down, pushed some of the noise aside, and sat down with me for a few minutes to talk it through and tell me a little more about who He is. My solution didn't appear, but my perspective is better and I have something to hold on to that shapes the conversation and the molding. I can knead the play-doh with more of an open hand, hold it up to my Father, and know that he's with me and will not forsake me. That matters.

Prayer Even for People Who Do Not Pee Alone, Part 1

I don't see these butterflies resting much, but they do occasionally stop and breathe. 
[Philippians 4:6 NIV]  Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

[1 Peter 5:7 NIV]  Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

Say I have a problem. Eventually a helpful friend will ask me if I've prayed about it. 

Um....not much? But I've thought about it constantly, talked it over with friends, and spent a lot of worry on it. But prayed? Somehow that seems really hard.

Why haven't I prayed about it? The verses above make it clear that's the appropriate response! Somehow that seems really hard, though. 

One reason is that it's hard to slow down my mind enough once it starts spinning to get it pointed toward God. Another is that I feel like there's a certain way I ought to be praying about it--I think I ought to have a quiet space, a quiet hour, a tranquil series of moments, a quiet mind to be able to begin. I over-spiritualize things. 

Dedicated time alone is difficult and uncommon for me. My people follow me into the bathroom, they want a snack, they are fighting with siblings, facebook beckons, the phone rings, I am restless. I suppose I could summon all my strength and find a way to set firm boundaries with my 3-year-old, discipline effectively so everyone gets along, go on a permanent social media fast, turn off the phone, and quiet my mind all at once. But I haven't done that yet. Maybe that's why I expect I'll never be a giant in the faith. God bless you if you've done it; you are to be commended. 

No, right now, I'm going to have to ask God to meet me where I'm at: inside the poorly-run circus.

I'm going to suggest that prayer doesn't have to be something you wait to do. It's something that doesn't need to be set up, and you can do it right now, with no supplies. 

Here's me without praying about it: It’s as if I’m holding the problem or anxiety in my hands like play-doh, kneading it, trying to shape it. I keep holding tightly, working it over, determined to make something out of it that will make me feel better. 

But here's me praying about it: In the middle of that kneading, as soon as I think to do it, is to just hold it up as if for God’s inspection. “Lord, what do you think about all this? What should I do? How should I respond? I need help. Would you help me?” 

It’s not eloquent, not generally prolonged, and often feels very flat, but it is praying about it. 

God is so gracious. As he proved through Jesus, He’s so near, and so loving. Even our most feeble attempts to reach out to Him are met with a good Father’s love. It’s never a waste to give even a moment’s attention to Him, even if it’s only a moment. 

What happens then? For me? Sometimes nothing. I go back to the struggle feeling exactly the same, thinking the same, not knowing what to do exactly the same. 

Sometimes, I’ll hear in my heart a quiet answer to my brief lifting up.  

You need chocolate. 

Huh. Was that the voice of the Holy Spirit? ....I hope so! But I have no evidence of that whatsoever. Probably it's just me (which doesn't mean I don't need chocolate).  

If I keep listening, though, I may hear something else once I get past or have satisfied the chocolate cravings. It’s not always the solution, but it’s an invitation to explore the conversation further. It’s easiest to realize I might be hearing God's voice when I recognize it as a phrase or idea from scripture. Then I know my footing is more solid. "God, I'm still here. Please help me!" 

I will not leave you nor forsake you. 

Huh. I know that’s biblical. Now what? 

When I remember a phrase like that and decide to lock in, I start with where it came from in the Bible. If I don’t know where I've heard it before, I can turn to a resource like www.blueletterbible.org and look it up. I’m often encouraged by what I find, and by the end, through the encouragement, conviction, or exhortation, I can know the Holy Spirit has been talking to me using the scripture. I prayed about it! And God answered. That's so much better than having waited until I am having a personal week-long cloistered retreat...which would be awesome but has never happened to me.

(to be continued)

Dealing with a Little Pressure

For months, I have been wrestling with trying to make what feels like an important decision regarding my children's educations in the future. I don't know what is best, and I don't know what God is asking me to do--or if He's asking me to do anything in particular. Maybe I'm supposed to persevere? Maybe I'm supposed to change a course--but it feels like throwing in the towel altogether? Maybe I'm supposed to do some mix of things? Could it be the thing that seems easiest for me is also best for them? Or do I have to choose among them? Or is nothing best?

For Easter, my mother-in-law gave me A Year with C.S. Lewis: Daily Readings from His Classic Works. This is a blessing because it gives me just one or two paragraphs with something thoughtful to consider. I really have little attention for more. I've been pausing at nap time the last few days with my reheated coffee, scraps of scripture, and this book. It's good to have a plan. (My read-through-the-Bible chronologically plan has not altogether failed, but I did get mired down in Leviticus, so I'm taking a break on that.) Today's reading from Lewis was a section from Screwtape Letters, where the senior demon writes to his demonic mentee:

"You complain that my last letter does not make it clear whether I regard being in love as a desirable state for a human or not....Leave them to discuss whether 'Love,' or patriotism, or celibacy, or candles on altars, or teetotalism, or education, are 'good' or bad'. Can't you see there's no answer? Nothing matters at all except the tendency of a given state of mind, in given circumstances, to move a particular patient at a particular moment nearer to the Enemy or nearer to us." 

I had been talking with my dear friend just this morning about something very like this regarding my own options. Turning to my Bible, I found the bookmark ribbon at 2 Corinthians 2, so I turned back a page to start at the beginning. There, I found this:

"We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us..." (2 Corinthians 1:8-10 NIV)
Pressure is what I've been feeling, from the demands of parenting and homeschooling, and from the thought of making a change in it all. Not great pressure, not despairing-of-life pressure, but still uncomfortable. I felt like that these disciples wrote these for me today--that I would be encouraged to learn what it means in this moment, in this season, to rely not on myself but on God. Let me use this opportunity to let God move me closer to Him, to continue to trust him and prove him faithful--rather than to think that I've got to figure it out on my own, or that somehow by making a particular decision I'll be guaranteeing an outcome. Let me walk in the path I've got light for, ask God to continue giving me light to walk, and keep on trusting Him to handle the future. 

My Current Enemy

I recently attended a retreat where the speaker encouraged us to renew our dedication to hiding the Bible in our hearts. She provided a useful framework for coming up with a faithful interpretation of passages we may be reading, and sent us off to apply it.

Feeling a bit scatter-brained and unwilling to apply my attention to one particular passage as directed, I flipped around until I found a line that stuck out to me.

"I cry aloud to the LORD; I lift up my voice to the LORD for mercy. I pour out my complaint before him; before him I tell my trouble. When my spirit grows faint within me, it is you who know my way...." Psalm 142.  
This is where I have been living lately--with a faint spirit. I need some mercy. I'm getting encouraged....What's next?

"...In the path where I walk men have hidden a snare for me..."

I enjoy reading the psalms. I've always heard teachers praise them for being full of the entire gamut of human emotion, for showing us that it's "okay" to express our feelings to God, that believers have long struggled with many things. One thing I have never quite gotten, however, is what I am to do with the many references to the speaker's enemies--his real, in-the-flesh adversaries, such as King Saul toward David. Many today have such enemies still.

Me personally? Not as many. I'm blessed to not be able to think of any individual personal enemy. Antagonists, sure; enemies? No. Consequently, I tend to check out when reading these parts of the Psalms. What am I supposed to do with it?

But as I was considering all this that afternoon, it occurred to me that my biggest enemy at the moment are the many voices in my own head. Voices that aren't telling me the truth, sowing discontent, or eroding my confidence in what God is asking me to do and be today. They say:

  • See? You fail again. Of course.
  • You're doing a disservice to your kids with your educational choices. If you made different choices, things would be better. They would be better. You would be better. 
  • You're wasting your life. You should be accomplishing something that people care about. 
  • How ashamed the college alumni office would be if they knew what you weren't doing. You're a disappointment to feminists everywhere. {To which I say, 'What?! Where did this even come from?}
  • You are exhausting yourself for nothing. 
  • You've been on the wrong path for a long time.
  • It's not worth it. 
These voices are my enemy these days. When I started reading through and praying through that psalm with this in mind, it suddenly seemed a lot more real and helpful to me. These accusations and condemnations "pursue me" and are "too strong for me" (142:6).

Psalm 143 encouraged me in this way too:
"Rescue me from my enemies, O LORD, for I hide myself in you. Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground." (143:9-10)
Isn't that what I need in this season? Not to be constantly rolling up and down on the roller coaster of life? I don't know the answers to some of these questions that come to mind often. It's hard sometimes to discern what is a legitimate question to consider or a change I might profitably make from an unhelpful doubt or a nagging discontent that can't be solved except through God working in my heart. However, I know that I'm not to be living in fear and confusion constantly--it's not helpful or productive. Let me walk faithfully in the light that I have. Let me take one step at a time and wait on the Lord to direct our paths on His schedule.

When I'm bombarded and overwhelmed by these my many enemies, let me pray like Jehoshaphat in 2 Chronicles 20:12:
"...For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you." 
Furthermore, let me hear the response that the Holy Spirit sent to Jehoshaphat in that situation:
"'Do not fear or be dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours but God's'." (2 Chronicles 20:15)

One Way to Disciple: Watch, Practice, Dream, Repeat

In college, I spent pretty much all my free time dwelling with a campus ministry called Reach Out on Campus. I serve on it's advisory board now, so I wrote this up to share with its supporters and friends. It gave me a chance to think about what the discipleship there looked like, and the impact it had on me and the person I became. And since it's already written (haha!), I thought I'd share it with you:

I watched the ROC staff and their families so very carefully to see how they navigated life and the university. I watched to see what it meant to them to follow Jesus. I watched how they managed their families. I watched how they parented their children. I watched how they talked to congregations at church visits. I watched how they planned events. I watched how they studied the Bible. I watched how they memorized Scripture and used it to form their thinking. I watched how they led small group discussions. I watched how they shepherded the flock among them. I watched them encourage me in my studies. I watched how they wrestled with life’s persistent questions in the light of the Gospel. I watched as they served others selflessly with their time and resources.  I watched them graciously respond to people from a variety of theological traditions through the grace of the Gospel. I watched them persevere. Then I tromped back down the three flights of stairs and back onto campus to try it out.

I practiced following Jesus. I practiced thinking about the needs of others. I practiced planning events with a purpose. I practiced studying the Bible. I practiced memorizing Romans 8. I practiced leading small groups, even if only one other person showed up. I practiced teaching the Bible.  I practiced resolving conflicts with other students. I practiced talking about Jesus to classmates. I practiced talking about Him to strangers as I handed them free cocoa or popsicles. I practiced praying with others. I practiced caring for them, and I practiced seeing opportunities to encourage or to bless. I practiced serving the poor at Community Meals or with Good Works. I practiced persevering when my classes were hard. Then I clumped up Jeff Hill or Union Street or across College Green with my big blue backpack, back up the three flights of stairs to the ROC House to see who would talk about life with me.

I dreamed about what my family might be someday. I dreamed about what it meant to have a Christian marriage or to live in Christian community. I dreamed about how I might educate my children, and why. I dreamed about being the church. I dreamed about how my job or career might contribute to God’s kingdom. I dreamed about how I might continue to encourage, to bless, and to serve.

Some of my dreams turned into reality: I developed a healthy marriage and a mess of kids. We participate in a vibrant gospel-centered church community. Some of my dreams didn’t: I didn't land a public school teaching job despite my best efforts, and I am not on track to become Secretary of Education someday. I never went to graduate school. I haven't written a book (yet) called There's Only So Much Love in a Hot Dog. We mess up as much or more than we succeed, it feels. To my surprise, it turns out that being an undergrad was easy and "adulting" is hard, even when everything is going well.

But I continue to practice walking after Jesus and to dream. He has brought new and unexpected things to us: we took a shot at helping a young couple in our church with pre-marriage counseling recently. He has also brought more of the same things we practiced at ROC: leading small groups, advocating for children in extreme poverty through Compassion International, serving in our church in various long-term capacities, discipling our four children, seeing ourselves as an active part of Christ's body. I continue to serve, to struggle occasionally (throughout the day), and to persevere. 

Through God’s grace, Jesus used ROC in my life to set me on a path of intentional discipleship that I think is completely vital for any believer. I know my experience was not unique, and that ROC has done this for many of my friends and others I haven't met.  That's why I believe so strongly in ROC and what Jesus does through it. ...

Light and Momentary Troubles

2 Corinthians 4:13-18
It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak,14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself.15 All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.
16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

My college campus minister would from time to time quote these verses to us, with a dramatic emphasis on "temporary!" and "eeeeterrrrnaaal." It was good for us to remember to discern between what was quickly fading (even if it didn't seem like it), and what was not.

In light of some of my own frustrations and struggles of late, let me recap that for myself: 

Dry-erase marker stockings...temporary! (sorta)
"I can't do this! You know I can't do this, and you don't listen, and you don't help me!"--my kid's attitude and sass...temporary!
Frustration over penmanship, even if it's your favorite poem...temporary!
And--pride at overcoming frustration to complete a task...also temporary!
"Mommy! I need help wiping!" --my kid's bathroom incompetence...temporary! (I hope)
"Mommy, Rosie's tearing up the plants!"...temporary! (Because eventually I will run out of plants)
Toddler gardening...temporary!

A marker smears with snot and tears...temporary!

What happened during the five minutes I foolishly attempted to read my boys a book; picky eaters; messy eaters; the 6-ring circus that is my daily life right now...temporary!

I was thinking about these verses recently because they are what came to mind when I asked God to help me. With everything. Parenting, homemaking, being part of the Body of Christ, and marriage mostly. Also exercise and good nutrition.  Because I don't feel like I have it in me to do these things, but it seems like they are mine to do anyway. I mentioned to someone I respect who has had a difficult season recently that "outwardly we are wasting away, but inwardly we are being renewed day by day." Their response was honest: "Are we?" 

Where am I supposed to get the strength? How am I supposed to persevere? How am I renewed?
"I lift my eyes up to the mountains; where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, maker of Heaven and earth." (Psalm 121) 

Okay, but how do I get His help? How do I use it? What makes it real? 
Here is the beginning of a list. Feel free to add other ideas as a comment below; I've really just begun to compile things here. 
1) God's word frames reality and provides truth's perspective. It might go directly down into my heart on its own; or it might percolate and sink in better through some discussion with friends. 
  • Something I read recently; 
  • something I spent lots of time thinking about or memorized in the past;
  • something I heard in song lyrics that were lifted from scripture; 
  • something my friend reminds me of. 

2) I can be encouraged and empowered by the truth, rather than sucked down the chute of my (temporary, even if they are long-term) feelings. This makes a huge difference. Knowing that I am thinking wrongly about a situation gives me a choice to make, even if it takes a while to get there. 
3) Sometimes, God will change my circumstances to untie a knotted problem, remove the difficult thing from me or my loved one, or provide a solution to the dilemma. He has done this through: 
  • Friends offering to help
  • A kind word from a stranger
  • The missing thing reappearing

4) Sometimes, God sends encouragement in the form of: 
  • an easier day than normal, or than yesterday
  • a nice gesture from a kid, a spouse, a stranger
  • a nap

So let me grab hold of #1 here, which is that I'm being renewed day by day, and that what is eternal (my soul, my family's souls and those of others, what God's doing in the world) is what truly counts. Let me remember to fix my eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary! but what is unseen is eeeeterrrnalll. And let me press on; persevere; and not lose heart