Hard – Does Not Mean Bad

Today I am blessed to share a guest post by our son, David Ecrement.  As you read his words of walking with the Lord during the hard times, I pray you will be encouraged and blessed. It was written in September 2016, but is poignant in 2020 as he uses the faith he expressed here while waging his own war on cancer in recent months. It demonstrates how faithful God is in preparing us for battles ahead that we may not see coming.

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The last 18 months have been some of the hardest of my adult life…and when recently verbalizing this reality to a friend, he responded by saying, “I’m so sorry.” I smiled and replied, “By saying it’s been ‘hard’, I didn’t necessarily mean ‘bad’.”

 

Somewhere along the line of our growing up into maturity (regardless of where you are on that timeline), many of us seem to have a something hard-wired into our DNA that causes us to assume that hard times, difficulties, etc…can be the result of ‘not living right’, or being outside of God’s will; and in those times, things aren’t “good”.

 

Nothing could be further from the truth. Thanks to Adam and Eve’s original sin in the garden of Eden, we’re essentially promised to have hard times…and to have to work “hard” all the days of our lives. [Genesis 3:17-19]

 

For some folks, working hard while doing something they love, may not ever seem like work at all. There’s a popular saying, “Do something you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life!” For many of us, doing something we love doesn’t always translate into income or a means to ‘make a living.’ For others, it does. Sometimes what we ‘love’ to do ends up being a hobby or sport, and can be very important and fulfilling, but it may be in addition to our “job.”

 

My current story (in condensed form) as I cross the 50 year mark is this: I grew up with a lot of interests, ranging from music to sports. I did well in high school, went to a four-year college and obtained a degree…and also met my best friend and wife for life. After school, I moved to another part of the country to pursue one of my interests, music. After some varying degrees of success over a couple years, I moved into the business side of the music business and worked in that area for 15+ years. From there, I moved into a corporate job, and for nearly a decade, managed a team and some high-dollar budgets for a well-known company. Then, about 18 months ago, despite nearly ten years of positive results and glowing annual reviews, I was simply “down-sized”… laid off, let go…”position deleted” (you get the picture.)

 

As I celebrated my 50th birthday just a few days ago, a mile-marker for a lot of folks nearing the mid-to-later stages of their ‘life race’, I feel like I’m starting over. And it’s been hard. These last 18 months have been hard–but not necessarily “bad.”

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Wild Rose, Alberta, Canada

 

Having to work hard, having a hard time—does not mean that God’s face is turned away from you. Consider these examples:

 

  • Adam had to work the soil and toil hard the rest of his life (post Garden of Eden) but still had God’s favor and protection. [Genesis chapters 3-5]

 

  • Joseph had a ridiculously hard life in his early years from being rejected by his brothers and unjustly thrown into a pit and prison; and yet, “God meant it for good.” [Genesis chapter 45]

 

  • Out of all the 12 disciples, most were killed in gruesome ways, and yet they were who Jesus “chose”. There was no “pass” or “prosperity doctrine” that ruled their minds or lives.

 

Sometimes things don’t work out as we think or plan. That’s OK. God’s omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence are things we will never–this side of heaven–ever be able to comprehend. His ways are not dependent on our circumstances or our understanding.

 

My wife and I had a dear friend, Cindy—actually my wife’s best friend of 20 years—who came down with lung cancer. After nine short months, despite the prayers and intercession of countless family members, friends and multiple churches…God decided that He wanted her in heaven more than we needed her here on earth.

 

In her last days, my wife spent a lot of time with her dear friend. On one visit, Cindy commented, “A lot of people have been asking me, ‘Aren’t you angry at God? Don’t you want to ask Him “why?”’ Without hesitation, she went on and answered her own question by saying, “Why not? Why not me?” Her point was, simply, God’s ways are so beyond what we can ask or imagine. And sometimes, just sometimes…what seems to be tragic and unfair (i.e. “hard”), might be exactly what God has designed and ordained. (Remember Joseph and Job in the Old Testament?)

 

The way Cindy lived—as she was dying—while it was so incredibly hard…was so incredibly good–for the kingdom. On the other side of her passing, her indelible mark with how she lived her last days during those nine months, could arguably outweigh every other positive impression she had made on this earth during her prior 50+ years.

 

So, my encouragement to you today (and to myself as I look in the mirror), is to remember this:

 

If what you’re currently going through in life is “hard”, remember that—in God’s economy and scale—it might not necessarily be bad.

 

Look beyond yourself. Keep your eyes and palms turned up.

“I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved; He who keeps you will not slumber.” Psalm 121:1-3

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About David…             img_1960

David is a husband of 31 years, father of two children, and companion of one amazing Golden Retriever named Sam who loves to go on early morning walks with him or sit by his side on their porch in Franklin, TN.

Lover of his Lord, family time, music, using his smoker on his latest recipe, mountains, night sounds sitting by a fire in the fire pit, photography, and all things Harley Davidson, I am blessed to call him my son.

As I have observed his life of faith, his consistency in prayer, the Word, and the wisdom of Oswald Chambers have pointed the way for the course of his life even in this current difficult season. What a pleasure for me to share his heart with you today!

 

What Do We Believe?

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Pixabay

 

That question about what we believe has come into sharp focus in recent months because the answer impacts so much more of how we face each day’s challenges. Our belief points to where we place our faith as we face each day ahead and is central to our choices, our hope, our peace, and how we live these out – and never more so than when times are difficult.

 

I am drawn to how Eugene Peterson describes faith in The Message:

 

“The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. The act of faith is what distinguished our ancestors, set them above the crowd.”

Hebrews 11:1-2 (MSG)

 

Reading a biography on Susannah Spurgeon has reminded me of the harsh realities of another time period during which she and Charles Spurgeon lived and ministered despite their own physical pain and emotional challenges.

 

Charles Spurgeon gives us a glimpse of his thoughts in this quote from The Cheque Book of the Book of Faith:

 

“The way of life is like travelling among the Alps. Along mountain paths one is constantly exposed to the slipping of the foot. Where the way is high the head is apt to swim, and then the feet soon slide; there are spots which are smooth as glass, and others that are rough with loose stones, and in either of these a fall is hard to avoid. He who throughout life is enabled to keep himself upright and to walk without stumbling has the best reasons for gratitude. What with pitfalls and snares, weak knees, weary feet, and subtle enemies, no child of God would stand fast for an hour were it not for the faithful love which will not suffer his foot to be moved.”

 

Charles Spurgeon resolutely looked forward through the eyes of faith toward the future despite the challenges he faced on so many sides. He could do that because he believed steadfastly in the promises of God. That belief held him fast.

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And that place and position resonates in the lyrics written by Russell K. Carter of the old hymn “Standing on the Promises.” In the midst of the storms of life the second verse speaks clearly to where many find themselves today in their faith walk:

 

Standing on the promises that cannot fail,
When the howling storms of doubt and fear assail,
By the living Word of God I shall prevail,
Standing on the promises of God.

 

What do we believe?

 

The dictionary defines the word promise this way:

 

“A declaration or assurance that one will do a particular thing or that a particular thing will happen”

 

The foundation of what we believe is found in our hearts. Though we read and study the scriptures, hear magnificent messages, see visions, or dream dreams, it will be what our heart affirms as true that settles our beliefs. And that will cause us to lean in with understanding of God’s deep and abiding love expressed in his covenant commitment between Him and his people in every place on this earth.

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No biblical hero we read about led a perfect life of ease or a life without dysfunction of some kind, yet God chose them because of what they believed about Him even in the midst of failure and sometimes doubt or unbelief. In so doing, they grew in an unwavering assurance of God’s love for them no matter how many in this life might have betrayed or abandoned them, no matter what trials they might need to walk through.

 

“If we would but meet every affliction, be it small or great, with a brave confidence in our Lord’s mighty love to us, and an unquenchable faith in His power, our trials would either vanish altogether, or be transformed into triumphs which would bring honor to our King!”

Susannah Spurgeon in A Basket of Summer Fruit

 

 The battle for our hearts will always be fierce, but God’s love is the fiercest of all and will prevail if we keep our focus on the Promise Keeper instead of the “news of the day” meant to strip us of hope for the future while offering little return for any loyalty we may give it.

 

We are called to be fierce hearted and Holley Gerth points to the goal:

“Let’s be unexpected warriors,

Love ninjas, secret agents of grace

In the kitchens and the boardrooms

and by the swings on the playground.

They’ll never see us coming.”

 

That is what belief in action looks like. We are his agents in the battle of the ages being fought within our hearts and in every neighborhood.

 

What do you believe?

 

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Will We Follow?

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A favorite childhood game of years past was one called “Follow the Leader” and although it was straightforward, a good leader also would throw in a few challenges along the way to add to the fun. Following in the game was fun, but when we are not playing a game how difficult is it to follow someone else?

 

Some might say they are a “natural born leader” and see that as their role and it may well be, they have an abundance of leadership characteristics that others are quick to follow, but ALL of us need to be followers in one situation or another.

 

But following can be difficult for the best of us if it means going where we would prefer not to go or doing what we would prefer not to do.

 

What does that look like in our relationship with the Lord?

 

Before you answer that consider some of the biblical history that is recorded and try to put yourself in the scene without knowing what you know now. Depending on how many of the biblical stories you have read or can recall you may discover more than a few examples that point to how hard it can be to bend our wills to the Lord’s.

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Certainly, we find many of those examples in Hebrews 11 that is often called the “Hall of Faith” where we find those who followed in faith without quibbling or certainty about what the outcome would be. These ancestors of ours distinguished themselves by following faithfully.

 

Faith doesn’t see the outcome and yet follows. Faith keeps looking forward following the Lord, but we see examples of those who didn’t. An easy one is when God sent an angel to help rescue Lot and his wife before He destroyed Sodom. The instructions were explicit – follow and do not look back – but Lot’s wife looked backward as they were leaving town and became a pillar of salt in the bargain.

 

Times of uncertainty intensify the challenge of following. Few of us would say we liked to wait, but recently I heard a pastor say, “Faith keeps walking in the midst of waiting.”

 

When the path forward in faith leads into the desert or wilderness, most of us are likely to question if this is really what the Lord intends. We may wonder if it is an enemy trick.

 

The book of Exodus sees a beleaguered fledgling nation led out of slavery to what all hope will be a better life, an easier life. Instead the path God lays out is through the wilderness. How could that be the right direction? It is not a surprise that many didn’t trust the leadership of Moses and Aaron and even if they followed, it was with grumbling and complaining the whole way.

 

But not to go the wilderness way would be to miss God’s glory according to Exodus 16:10 (NIV):

 

“While Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the Lord appearing in the cloud.”

 

In Susannah Spurgeon’s little devotional, A Basket of Summer Fruit, she reflects on just such a direction:

 

“Not a likely spot to which one’s eyes would naturally turn for a revelation of the Divine presence! A solitary place, without habitation, or fruitfulness, or beauty; a waste and arid land, where the sun smites by day, and the moon by night; a place where the wild beasts meet, and dragons and owls dwell in safety. Yet such a desert does God choose, in which to reveal Himself; and the watcher sees, amid all this desolation and loneliness, nothing less than “the glory of the Lord.”

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Faith follows without knowing the path or even the destination. We see that clearly in the life of Abraham and so many others.

 

The key to following in faith is what we believe. Believing is what God looks for and honors. And each step of faith gives opportunity to grow in trust as well because we must set aside trust in things we know or have and trust in the character of the One who made and redeemed us.

 

Look at the words Eugene Peterson uses in The Message in Hebrews 11:6:

 

“It’s impossible to please God apart from faith. And why? Because anyone who wants to approach God must believe both that he exists and that he cares enough to respond to those who seek him.”

 

Perhaps the wilderness journey is needed because it is where we come to know the Lord best and also come to know ourselves in ways we never would if the path were easy.

 

“Do not fear to look toward the wilderness, then, if your God has put you there; for here are the “goings forth” of the Lord from of old, and even thus does He give “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

Susannah Spurgeon in A Basket of Summer Fruit

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Photo by Sagui Andrea from Pexels

 

 

 

 

 

Susie

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Ask anyone if they have ever heard of Charles Spurgeon and you will likely find the name is familiar to more than a few. He is considered to be the finest and most influential preacher of the nineteenth century. He was an English Baptist pastor born in 1834 whose words, books, and influence extended far beyond the Baptist part of the Christian family tree and his written legacy is still sought today by many around the world.

 

Not everyone knows his wife, Susannah, or the significance she played in his life or had as a person in her own right, but reading a biography by Ray Rhodes Jr. on her life opened my eyes into the life of this delightful and significant woman. The book is Susie: The Life and Legacy of Susannah Spurgeon and it not only introduced me to her but gave precious glimpses of the Spurgeon love story.

 

Susannah Thompson was born January 15, 1832, on Old Kent Road in London and with her parents often visited relatives in Southwark. While there they attended New Park Street Chapel which was where she met Charles H. Spurgeon on a December Sunday evening in 1853.

 

Not long after their initial meeting, Charles would accept the pastorate at that same Chapel and as Susannah sat under his preaching she felt convicted of her cold spiritual condition. After confiding in her cousin about this, it seems Charles may have heard about it and sent her a copy of The Pilgrim’s Progress and inscribed it with a message that he desired her to make progress in her spiritual life as well.

 

Their deep love of God, reading and nature drew them close and in January 1856 they were married, and she became a true helpmate as they set out on their marital and spiritual journey together.

 

The preaching of Charles soon packed out the New Park Street Chapel and expansion was needed and would be built to see over 5,000 people. That still was not enough for those who wanted to hear the great preacher and Surrey Garden Music Hall was set for a service on a Sunday evening in October of 1856. That night would be a defining moment in the life of Charles and Susannah.

 

Twelve thousand people filled the Hall and 10,000 more spilled out into the gardens and street, but someone who was tempted to stir up trouble yelled, “Fire!” and “The galleries are giving away!” Even though there was no fire, the troublemaker caused panic resulting in death and injury as people pushed to get out of the Hall.

 

The author notes of this event: “Susie’s godly character is one important reason why Charles survived what was both a life-and-ministry-threatening tragedy.”

 

This early trial before they celebrated their first wedding anniversary would anchor Susie’s faith for times of suffering that would come in the years ahead. And she would play a key role in helping her husband with challenges despite her own and these would be what developed her greater dependence on God.

 

Susie would often write encouraging notes to her husband that would appear in some of the five books she would author. Here is one example:

 

“No darkness, no distance, no dividing distress of any kind can separate thee from His constant care.  Do remember, dear friend, that the God you love, the Master you serve, is never indifferent to your grief, or unwilling to hear your cry.”

 

Susie and Charles loved to travel together taking in the beauty of the Alps or along a favorite beach in France. It would be Susie who most delighted in hiking in these areas since she had traveled and done so prior to her marriage.

 

In September of 1856, their life together was blessed with the birth of twin sons . Both parents were delighted with these gifts from God, but it would be the last opportunity to give birth as Susie’s health would decline over time and appeared to be related to some condition that could not be fully resolved medically.

 

In every way Charles invited Susie into his thoughts and ministry preparations and she would often be invited into his study to review his sermons. She would describe those times as “gracious hours” and “unspeakably precious” to her. Here is a bit more of how she expresses her value of these times together:

 

“I listen to the dear voice of my beloved husband as he explains what I cannot understand, or unfolds meanings which I should fail to see, often condensing into a few clear, choice sentences whose pages of those discursive old divines in whom he delights, and pressing from the gathered thoughts all the richest nectar of their hidden sweetness.”

 

Susie’s passion to be of service would result in her establishing The Book Fund where she would collect monies to provide books and materials to poor pastors and congregations who did not have the benefit of the massive library she and Charles had amassed. This outreach would send hundreds of thousands of books around the world to struggling pastors and it was an outreach that would continue to extend the legacy after the death of Charles in 1892 until her own death in 1903.

 

Beyond the many details this book shares, you may also want to sample her heart for the Lord in one of her devotionals.

 

Susie describes her adoration for the Lord in these beautiful words in A Basket of Summer Fruit:

 

 “Does it make your heart leap to know that your Lord takes pleasure in your praise? In His ears are ever sounding the eternal symphonies of the universe – that majestic chorus which began “when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy,” but He turns from these to you, and with infinite tenderness and love, bends to listen to the grateful songs of His redeemed ones, as they bless Him for all His benefits.”

 

The impact of this author’s book is best described by Susie Spurgeon Cochrane, great-great-granddaughter of Susie Spurgeon:

 

“Having read Susie, I find myself surprised again by another of my ancestors. It has shown me of the depths of Susie’s faith. I find myself wanting to have a good chat with her about her walk with God.”

 

I couldn’t agree more!

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Many of you enjoyed the wonderful book Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan. Today you get a special addition to this post about an exciting new book by Patti Callahan.

Here it is! I am so excited to share the cover for Surviving Savannah by New York Times bestselling author Patti Callahan, on sale March 9, 2021. It’s inspired by the true and forgotten story of the sinking of the “Titanic of the South” #survivingsavannah #patticallahan Pre-order it here: https://bit.ly/3i9VQ4Y Visit Patti online: https://www.patticallahanhenry.com/surviving-savannah

SurvivingSavannah

 

About the book

New York Times bestselling author Patti Callahan delivers a breathtaking novel based on true events.
It was called “The Titanic of the South”—the luxury steamship that sank in 1838 with Savannah’s elite on board. Through time, their fates were forgotten—until the wreck was found.

Now their story is finally being told.

When Savannah history professor Everly Winthrop is asked to guest-curate a new museum collection focusing on artifacts recovered from the steamship Pulaski, she’s shocked. The ship sank after a boiler explosion in 1838, and the wreckage was just discovered, 180 years later. Everly can’t resist the opportunity to try to solve some of the mysteries and myths surrounding the devastating night of its sinking.

Everly’s research leads her to the astounding history of a family of eleven who boarded the Pulaski together, and the extraordinary stories of two women from this family: a known survivor, Augusta Longstreet, and her niece, Lilly Forsyth, who, along with her child, was never found. The women were part of Savannah society, but when the ship exploded, each was faced with difficult and heartbreaking decisions. This is a moving and powerful exploration of what women will do to endure in the face of tragedy, the role fate plays, and the myriad ways we survive the surviving.

Perfect for fans of Before We Were Yours, Sold on a Monday, and Orphan Train, Callahan’s highly anticipated novel tells the story of a little known chapter of history that has long deserved a spotlight. This transformative tale told from alternating past and present perspectives will sweep readers away and move them to their core.

For Bloggers and Bookstagrammers: You may enter to win an advance digital copy using this sweepstakes link: https://sweeps.penguinrandomhouse.com/enter/surviving-savannah-cover-reveal-sweeps

 

 

What Does Preparation Look Like?

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Photo by Loren King on Unsplash

 

As a child growing up on a farm in Ohio, I was given the gift of so many things I didn’t even realize I was receiving until much later in life when the farm was no longer there. Most of what was served on our table was grown or raised on our small sixty-acre farm. Both of my parents were exceptional stewards of the land and all they owned.

 

That witness resulted in me keeping just over seven acres of the original farm, which I sought a neighbor to utilize for whatever crop he needs to plant. I feel a sentimental tug to the values I saw day in and day out from one season to the next.

 

My parents never took God’s provision for granted, nor did they cease to exude gratefulness for His supply. Part of that was demonstrated in their faith and another was evident in their actions.

 

In the winter my father would pour over the catalogs of plants and seeds choosing what he believed would be best for our land and provide his family and livestock with what they needed. Preparation began when snowdrifts covered the fields and the garden, when the trees were bare. He knew there would be no crop if he waited until spring to consider planning.

 

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Photo by Binyamin Mellish from Pexels

The spring calendar was timed to exact details so that each crop, each plant, and each seed would be planted at the optimal time to bring about the best possible harvest.

 

Does not God plan and sow that way as well as He prepares for “the Great Harvest?”

 

It has been many years since I watched the checks on the calendar as tasks were completed, but I still remember much of the sequence of which things were planted when. The ground was tilled until clumps were broken into fertile soil waiting for the seed. Fertilizer of just the right type was added at just the time it was needed.

 

Doesn’t our good God do likewise in allowing challenges and trials to fertilize what He has planted within us to provide a rich harvest for His Kingdom?

 

As school ended for me and summer began, more work was done by weeding and watering, always tending and never shirking responsibility for the land. One by one crops began to push up out of the ground, grow, and be harvested.

 

My roll of “helper” whether podding peas, snapping beans, picking cherries, sterilizing jars for canning, or holding bags open for freezing taught me much about food preservation that prepared us for the fall and winter seasons when the land would not be producing.

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One of my parents’ great granddaughters

 

What are we teaching and modeling for our children today about stewardship and preparation for days when the fields are cold, and no harvest can be reaped?

 

In the summer and early fall, we enjoyed a table of great goodness, but my parents never took for granted any year’s harvest. A bit more than would be needed until the next harvest was always put away in the event the rain was too much or too little, the sun too hot or the air too frosty. As a result of that preparation, we enjoyed God’s provision through all the seasons of the year.

 

What we sow, harvest, and preserve this day will provide for many seasons to come in Him.

 

But my parents’ stewardship did not end with the land or the livestock. They also stewarded faith, knowledge of God’s Word, and a commitment to prayer, tithing, service, and fellowship. They continued a lineage from their families. The harvest of their preparation and tending passed to me and beyond to my children, their grandchildren.

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They knew well that life apart from the Lord would never prepare us to live with hope, find peace in the midst of life’s storms, or courage in the face of obstacles.

 

 

Today Frederick Buechner again reminded me of the importance of preparation as I read these words:

 

“People are prepared for everything except the fact that beyond the darkness of their blindness there is a great light. They are prepared for God who strikes hard bargains but not for a God who gives as much for an hour’s work as for a day’s. They are prepared for the potluck supper at First Presbyterian but not for the marriage supper of the lamb, and when the bridegroom finally arrives at midnight with vine leaves in his hair, they turn up with their lamps to light him on his way all right, only they have forgotten the oil to light them with and stand there with their big, bare, virginal feet glimmering faintly in the dark.”

 

As I read his thought-provoking words and reflected on what I had learned from my parents who went home to be with Him twenty-five years ago, I sought the Lord’s grace to let my preparation for Him be a daily priority.

 

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