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When You’re Tempted to Despair

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The following post received the Oregon Christian Writers 2016 Cascade Award for Published Article or Blog Post.

 

When life feels uncertain, I’m drawn to the pinnacles and edges of the earth. To mountaintops and seashores. And I think I know why. If you’re feeling like me, barely hanging on by grossly neglected fingernails, I hope you’ll read on.

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Our family’s riding out a storm.

Back in late fall, a chronic illness descended on our teen daughter. It wrapped its mean, mysterious arms around her, flinging us into one of those life-interrupting, fear-inducing, plan-thwarting life seasons.

Until she gives me the green light to write about her condition, I won’t go into needless detail. In a nutshell, she has to do school from home while she mends, and we don’t know how long that might take. As parents, we’ve been tasked with tracking her visible symptoms while she tracks the inner ones. We watch for patterns. So I carry a notepad.

Doctors say there’s every reason to hope. God says there’s no reason to despair.

Daily I stiff-arm despair. I tell it, “Talk to the hand!” But recently I was wearying. I knew I needed to literally step out of our four walls to see things from a new angle.

In fact, we all craved a change of scenery, and heck, gas prices were down! So we hit the road and landed at the ocean.

By the pier at Manhattan Beach, we stood watching waves rise and fold—together, yet alone with our separate thoughts. Surfers jockeyed for position. A father and son cast fishing lines off the pier. A pelican flew over. Parents staked out sections of sandy turf, hoisted umbrellas and scolded kids. I sensed we were all collectively waiting for something.

Me, I waited for the fog to burn off. And I hoped for a personal message of refreshment from God to glide onshore like the seafoam around my toes. I don’t expect a letter in a bottle, Lord. But hey, at this point I’d settle for a drop of sunshine.

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Bits of shells peppered the wet sand. I picked up a long, smooth pebble embedded with a fossilized shell and ran my fingers over it. Grit and force and time had erased its edges, leaving it cool and silky to the touch—lovely and admirable.

Waves folded, glassy and green as those old Coca-Cola bottles, lapping the pier footings at seemingly random intervals. Some crashed, spraying water wildly; others calmly licked at the wood. I stood, mesmerized by a sense of rhythm beyond my understanding. A peace and steadiness that spoke of order behind the chaos.

After a while, warmth crawled over my shoulder. A patch of the sky was now clear and blue. The sun, though hidden, had been dissolving the fog, one microscopic dew drop at a time.

I didn’t find answers at the edge of the world. I found I didn’t require them.

Wherever our shifting sands meet the roar of certainty, whenever our questions are met with a knowing, fears dissolve.

A change of perspective doesn’t always necessitate leaving town, but it does mean transcending the circumstances suffocating us. Margaret Feinberg calls it fighting back with joy. And Laura Boggess writes in Playdates With God,

When my spirit grows tired and my heart drags on the ground behind—isn’t it only natural to seek adventure? . . . With God, I don’t need to travel abroad. When I step out in faith—when I go to a new place, try a new activity, see something old with new eyes—time is savored. It’s not another culture, but it’s different to me. I pray for new eyes. I pray for God-eyes. 

Maybe you can’t get out of Dodge just now. But maybe it’s time to accept your sweet friend’s longstanding offer of help. Let her watch your kids for an hour or two while you park down a secluded road, pray, and listen to music.

Take sanctuary in a teahouse with a new book. Meet a friend for coffee. Wander around an art gallery. Write a poem.

For a long time after my mom was widowed, she would drive into the redwoods once a week and listen to a broadcasted sermon. I wish you’d known her. Life’s grit and force sure softened her over time. She was as lovely and admirable as they come.

Next time hopelessness rises like an urgent tide from your belly to your chest, next time you’re tempted to despair, change up your scenery. Then pay close attention.

Even better, spend time afterward reflecting on what God showed you. Tell someone what you discovered, or journal it. Hope gets down in your pores when you testify to it. It becomes the skin you wear.

By the way, I’ve decided if I have to carry around a special stinkin’ notepad to log discouraging symptoms, you better believe I’m going to carry another one. I call this new one my Encouragement Log. It’s helping me pay attention. Hallelujah!

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14 Responses to When You’re Tempted to Despair

  1. Nikita 04/25/2017 at 11:47 am #

    I had read this before, but came back to it because it is so powerful. You are gifted with your eloquent authorship, and I appreciate it a ton. I wanted to mention that the photo of your encouragement journal page reminded me of Grandma. All of it! The handwriting, the concept of a log of encouraging happenings/thoughts.. just lovely. Thank you <3

    • Kit 04/25/2017 at 2:42 pm #

      Nikita, thank you so much for commenting. You’ve given me the gift of (more) cleansing tears. I can’t think of a higher compliment than to be compared to Grandma Doris. I want to be like her when I grow up 🙂

  2. Don Detrick 08/22/2016 at 1:02 pm #

    Wonderful words, Kit! Great job of touching the sensitive part of the soul. I may borrow this (and give you credit) for a course I am teaching about discipleship. This piece well-deserved the award! God bless.

    • Kit 08/22/2016 at 2:51 pm #

      Thank you, Don. I’m happy to let the piece be used in any way that’s useful. May God redeem our trial for kingdom purposes. Hallelujah!

  3. Rick Spillman 08/19/2016 at 11:14 am #

    I see why you won. You have a beautiful command of words. My daughter was diagnosed as manic-depressive at age 14. We went on a roller coaster ride that was way more down than up for years. She ended up a meth addict. But just when we thought there was no hope God did something amazing. As she tells it one day He spoke to her and said “I’ve been protecting you all this time. You didn’t die, you didn’t go to prison. But if you don’t stop meth today I will no longer protect you.” She stopped meth that day and has not used since. Unheard of to kick meth after a year and a half of constant use in a day and without withdrawal I might add. That was when the roller coaster started up and the climb didn’t end there. Today she has two children, a great job as a CNA, and (drum roll here) God has healed her of manic depressive disorder. She is off all meds and has no symptoms at all. That does not happen … ever. But though God it does and it did. I tell you all this so that you can know that your daughter will come through this and you all will be stronger for it.

    Rick

    It was great finally meeting you.

    • Kit 08/19/2016 at 3:58 pm #

      Rick, thank you so much for sharing your story! Wow. Just wow. Praise God, what an incontestable miracle, and such encouragement to me. I wrote this last year when we were in the thick of her illness. We lived right on the edge of that dark abyss for two years, but now we too have a redemption story to tell, and I hope to be ready to write about it soon. Meanwhile, I’m overwhelmed with gratitude to the point of blubbering, just absolutely wrecked by his grace in the best possible way. Our daughter has been completely well for going-on five months (!), and we believe this trial is now in our rear-view mirror. God IS faithful. Amen, friend!

  4. Lynne Burkholder 03/01/2015 at 1:39 pm #

    “I didn’t find answers at the edge of the world. I found I didn’t require them.” Loved that sentence. Love your “voice.” Love your God! Maybe here and definitely over there! we’ll be talking.

    • Kit 03/02/2015 at 9:01 am #

      Great to meet you, Lynne! Walk in joy today. We don’t need the answers…*only to believe*

  5. Laura 02/23/2015 at 12:47 pm #

    Bless you, Kit. I think the hardest things to let go of (with grossly neglected fingernails :)) are the trials we can’t take away from our kids. It just stinks to have to watch them go through painful things. I admire your faith in hearing God speak in the midst of this, and I’m glad my words in Playdates with God helped, if even just a little. Saying a prayer for you and your girl now, my friend. May your heart find refreshment and many hallelujahs along the way.

    • Kit 02/23/2015 at 6:28 pm #

      Laura, thank you. I feel the prayers and am listing you in my Encouragement Log today. Hallelujah indeed!

  6. Teresa 02/22/2015 at 7:51 pm #

    Blessed. Thank you

    • Kit 02/23/2015 at 7:59 am #

      Thanks for reading, Teresa. Hugs!

  7. mari 02/21/2015 at 2:24 pm #

    Beautiful sentiments and photos, top to bottom. Thanks for sharing sis, and luckily, I “knew her.”

    • Kit 02/21/2015 at 2:39 pm #

      Thank you, Mari. You are another lovely, admirable woman!

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