Strength Through Hardships

If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day; show him how to catch fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.butterfly

In case you didn’t know it, this is not a Bible verse. Most people disagree on the source of this quote, attributions  differing from a Chinese proverb to Maimonides to Anne Isabella Ritchey. No matter its source, it shares a wisdom that we can find reflected in this passage in Matthew:

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen.  “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him.  Matthew 4:18-20

They left their nets and followed Jesus, seeking to fish for the souls of people. In Luke’s telling of this story, we learn that Jesus first asked Simon and Andrew to let him use their boat as a place to stand away from the gathering crowds as he spoke to them. After he finished speaking, this happened:

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break.  So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. Luke 5:4-7

Even though he just changed their immediate income needs, they chose to follow him. Why? Because he could show them how to save people rather go fishing every day. Which choice was harder to make? If we’re honest, following Jesus had to be a difficult decision. The Bible tells us that they followed Jesus willingly, but I bet they thought about the hardships this might cause their families and themselves. Yet they went. It was the better choice and changed their lives forever.

I wrote a few weeks ago about my daughter and how to recognize a prodigal, concluding that she is not a prodigal, yet, because she still expects something from me and others. She’s unwilling to face her struggles on her own.

When we raise our children, we want to give them everything. As a single parent, I couldn’t, but that doesn’t mean I made wise decisions. There were times I tried to eliminate her struggles because I knew the pains (I imagined) she had suffered due to my poor choices early in life.  Did I do the right thing?

I’ll never know. She did experience hardships, and definitely is doing so now. Were there ones I should have allowed her to face that I stepped in and removed the obstacles too soon?

I’m reminded of the butterfly and its cocoon. If you’re not familiar with it, I’ve included it below:

Once a little boy was playing outdoors and found a fascinating caterpillar. He carefully picked it up and took it home to show his mother. He asked his mother if he could keep it, and she said he could if he would take good care of it. The little boy got a large jar from his mother and put plants to eat, and a stick to climb on, in the jar. Every day he watched the caterpillar and brought it new plants to eat.

One day the caterpillar climbed up the stick and started acting strangely. The boy worriedly called his mother who came and understood that the caterpillar was creating a cocoon. The mother explained to the boy how the caterpillar was going to go through a metamorphosis and become a butterfly.

The little boy was thrilled to hear about the changes his caterpillar would go through. He watched every day, waiting for the butterfly to emerge. One day it happened, a small hole appeared in the cocoon and the butterfly started to struggle to come out.

At first the boy was excited, but soon he became concerned. The butterfly was struggling so hard to get out! It looked like it couldn’t break free! It looked desperate! It looked like it was making no progress! The boy was so concerned he decided to help. He ran to get scissors, and then walked back (because he had learned not to run with scissors…). He snipped the cocoon to make the hole bigger and the butterfly quickly emerged!

As the butterfly came out the boy was surprised. It had a swollen body and small, shriveled wings. He continued to watch the butterfly expecting that, at any moment, the wings would dry out, enlarge and expand to support the swollen body. He knew that in time the body would shrink and the butterfly’s wings would expand.

But neither happened!

The butterfly spent the rest of its life crawling around with a swollen body and shriveled wings. It never was able to fly…

If we remove the hardships, we remove the opportunities for a person to thrive. By no means did I, or could I, remove all of the obstacles in my daughter’s life. She had plenty, and she is living many more now. I’ll never know if there was one I should have left for her to stumble over. What I do know is, unlike the butterfly, she can still become strong.

We must let our loved ones struggle, or they will never fly.  This is not ever easy to do as the observer.

Something to think about as you go throughout your day.

 

Houses Divided at Christmas

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Many people suffer from depression during the Christmas season. Some are experiencing their first Christmas after a loved one has died. Others worry about the family dynamic on Christmas day–Will Uncle Ralph pick a fight?  Will Cousin Sarah get drunk? For others, the limitations of getting everyone together can create stress and disappointment.

Anyone who’s divorced with children knows the heartache of Christmas. Where will the children be? How do we divide up the time? As the children grow up, marry, and start their own families, it becomes even harder. Which family will they spend Christmas with? Who will we have to leave out? Add to this married children of divorce who have married a child of divorce, and the problem is staggering.

Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three… Luke 12:51-52

Even though these verses don’t refer to this specific situation, this is another example of why divorce is not God’s plan. We are facing it, ourselves. After many years of Christmases with most of our family gathered together, we’ve hit an interesting crossroads. One child is saving her money to come home for a wedding in April, instead. The others are headed to various family members’ homes, just not ours. Aging parents can’t make the trip.

I know Christmas is not about who is where. It’s about the birth of Christ, and the world’s awareness of God’s gift of salvation. It’s a time of blessings.

But it’s also a time when families gather together.

So, we will be trying out new traditions this year. New ways of approaching the day. On the plus side, we won’t have to rush to get dressed and get the turkey in the oven before family arrives. We can take it slower. And we will see most everyone over the next week. We get a prolonged Christmas.

Someone you know is facing a Christmas alone or separated from loved ones. Reach out to them, share with them your lives, and, most importantly, share the story of Jesus and the hope he brings.

 

Navigating Mountains and Valleys in Life

Mountains and valleys

© Barbara V. Evers, All rights reserved.

If you’ve been following my story, then you’ve met me in my teen years and walked with me through teen pregnancy, teen marriage, domestic violence, divorce, single parenting and all of the trials and blessings that came from those experiences.

These events occurred so many years ago that it doesn’t even feel like my story anymore. It’s my distant past, not my present or future. Not to say I haven’t had my share of trials and hardships since. There have been mountain and valley experiences, but a strong faith in God helped me navigate the valleys.

Faith can help you turn mountains into mole hills Click to Tweet. In other words, I went through the fire and became stronger and more able to withstand what the world threw at me.

See, I have refined you, though not as silver;
    I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.
Isaiah 4:10

What Were My Afflictions?

Disappearing Children

My ex disappeared with the children after an altercation where his own father called the police and reported him abusing our daughter. Luckily, he returned with the kids on Sunday, but we spent the entire weekend worrying about their safety and whether they would return. As horrible as this event was, it gave us the fuel to fight his visitation rights.

A Legal System with Issues

The investigator who arrested my ex on charges of criminal domestic violence asked the judge to cancel his visitation until the hearing. The judge agreed, but by the time my ex appeared before a judge, a different one presided over the hearing where he was charged.  That judge refused to order him to stop visitation until the court date.  Still, the investigator took him aside and advised him not to see the children.

A No-Win Decision

Did he listen to the investigator?  Of course not. While we waited for our case to go to court, I found myself weighing the options of what might happen if I refused him his visitation weekends.  To the average person, the answer was obvious—don’t let them go—but it wasn’t that simple. My attorney advised me that if I allowed him his visitation, I could be cited for negligence by the courts and possibly lose custody.  If I denied him visitation, I could be charged with contempt of court, arrested, put in jail for disobeying a court order, and lose my children.

Defensive Tactics

So I faced a catch-22 decision. No one should have to make that decision, but I did. I denied him his visitation. Each time his weekend rolled around, he attempted to get the children. To prevent the school from having to deal with his requests to pick them up (something they legally couldn’t deny him), I began picking them up from school early on those days.

He caught on and tried sending his current wife to the school even earlier. For some reason, I anticipated his move and got there right before she did.

My Daughter as Witness

The day of the hearing, our oldest daughter testified against her father.  The guardian ad litem stood between her and her father, so he couldn’t intimidate her by staring at her.  Her attorney did not give her the same understanding.  She was twelve years old.  The hearing left all of us drained, but he lost his visitation rights.

Employment Ups and Downs

During the months between the altercation and hearing, I lost my job. I found another one quickly, but that employer didn’t want to give me the whole day off for the hearing. She couldn’t believe the hearing would last more than an hour.  It lasted all day and almost went into a second day. My job involved speaking to businesses, organizations, and churches about protecting yourself from a crime. Here I was dealing with a very personal crime against my children, and she booked me to speak to a group that night. I made it, while my children went home with my mother and my father went with me. It wasn’t right, but that’s the hand dealt to me that day.

Refined Silver (Blessings)

Not everything during that period was bad.

  • My oldest daughter got a part in a huge production of The Nutcracker. The dance troupe she performed with was the best one in the upstate, so this was a huge honor.
  • My second daughter did NOT have to testify against her father.  I’m glad, but she was upset about it.  She wanted to participate, too.
  • I bought a house!
  • I started dating a wonderful man whom I later married. With him, I gained three more children to my family.
  • My experiences all added to my ability to reach people with my crime prevention messages and later created the opportunity for me to work with single mothers through a welfare-to-work training program.
  • My children and I grew very close to my parents.
  • In all that happened, the church stood by us and cared for us.

In each life, we will have mountains and valleys. Although we don’t love the valleys, we aren’t meant to live on a mountaintop Click to Tweet where the view is amazing, but it’s cold and windy, and offers no life-giving resources like water. We must move off the mountain and experience the valleys. Life can be good on the downhill and uphill trek if we rely on God to guide us.