Tag Archives: discouragement

Bubbles in Bratislava

Europe on a river cruise. Hands up, everyone who’s dreamed of a getaway like this. My husband and I decided to splurge for our 30th anniversary, and the Grand European Tour from Viking River Cruises exceeded all expectations.

Fifteen days on the ship from Amsterdam to Budapest, with daily excursions, plus a three-day extension in Prague at the end. I loved being on the deck watching the scenery slide by. My favourite stop was the charming town of Miltenberg in Germany, and Budapest at night is the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen.

Conversations with our tour guides and with the crew on Viking longship Alsvin gave me a reality check about conditions in some of Europe’s former communist countries. Why had I assumed democracy was some kind of magic remedy that would make things better?

Democracy and freedom are fine things, but like everything else, they have learning curves and weaknesses. New political leaders need time to learn how to govern well (sadly, the corrupt ones seem to catch on faster). With no restriction on travel or occupation, those looking for a better life may forsake the fields for the factories, or their homelands for emigration.

It surprised me to hear that some people long for the “good old days” of communist rule, when “nobody had much, but everyone had something.” Others are thriving, and building a bright future.

These scattered tidbits of information were a minor part of our tour, but in the midst of sightseeing, sampling fine food and learning history, they carved a sense of hopelessness in me. What could I say to someone in this position? “Jesus loves you?” He does, but the words alone don’t sound like much. And they’re hard to trot out in a two-minute conversation with a stranger.

Normal people wouldn’t be affected this way, but although I tried not to dwell on it, my heart-heaviness grew.

Our bus tour through the city of Bratislava discouraged me. On the one hand, we saw a bridge that’s an engineering marvel, as well as opulent villas where international ambassadors live and hold court.

asymmetrical suspension bridge in Bratislava

The Novy Most (New Bridge) is an asymmetrical suspension bridge (also known as the Slovak National Uprising Bridge). Photo credit: Janet Sketchley

We saw a historic castle, still in use for diplomatic meetings. Slovakia’s capital city is poised for growth.

On the other hand, we saw smoke from clusters of factories. We heard about the thin walls in the grey ranks of apartment complexes. The contrast between rich-and-showy and trying-to-survive hurt me.

The bus let us out to explore the grounds of Bratislava Castle. My husband and I wandered, taking photos and absorbing the atmosphere, but I couldn’t shake the sadness inside.

Talking with God wasn’t helping. Until I turned and saw His gift.

A mother blowing bubbles for her child

See the bubbles, in front of the tree to the left of the left-hand lamp post? Photo credit: Janet Sketchley

On a park bench, a mother. Blowing bubbles for her child. Something in the simple act spoke hope to me.

God is still God, and He’s still present and at work.

Looking back now at our photos, I see a beautiful, modern city with green space, cradling a picturesque, cobblestoned historic centre. The older part has quaint buildings, brass statues, and of special delight to my husband and me, fine chocolate and artisanal honey.

Brass statue of a worker peeking out of a manhole

The Watcher. Photo credit: Janet Sketchley

How much would I have missed if I only remembered this city through my sad impressions?

Funny, I wrote this post to share how God encouraged my spirit through the mother and child—and the bubbles, which He knows I love—but I see a second lesson for myself: stop trusting my own perceptions, especially the melancholy ones, and pray for clear eyes to see what God sees. (Not that He doesn’t see the hurts. He has perfect perspective.)

Funnier? That’s a big part of the message I brought home from Write Canada: pray to see and hear what God sees and hears. More about that in a future post.

Oh—lest you’re wondering, Eowyn the travel sheep (or “porta-sheep”) came too. Acton the adventure sheep would have needed his own seat on the plane.

Stuffed sheep in the window of our ship's cabin

Eowyn watching the sights. Photo credit: Janet Sketchley

Curious about the scrapes in the paint on such a new ship? We passed through a lot of locks, sometimes with bare inches’ clearance on each side. We had a skilled crew, but wave action will jostle a boat while the water’s rising.


“I’ve been working my heart out for the God-of-the-Angel-Armies,” said Elijah. “The people of Israel have abandoned your covenant, destroyed the places of worship, and murdered your prophets. I’m the only one left, and now they’re trying to kill me.”
1 Kings 19:10, MSG*

Elijah’s conversation with God comes after my favourite of his exploits, when he taunted the prophets of Baal in a public showdown. (You can read that story in 1 Kings 18.)

That event may be the pinnacle of Elijah’s career. And God showed up in power. Yet here the prophet is, not long after, running scared from evil Queen Jezebel.

Surely the God of fire and miracles could handle a vicious queen and her henchmen, but Elijah isn’t thinking about God.

Look at what he says—and he says it twice in the chapter—he’s thinking about himself.

The mighty prophet of God is having a self-pity party.

I’m not pointing any fingers. I’ve been there, and for far less reason. You probably have too.

Commentators say Elijah was depressed, that it was a personality thing. Maybe so. But this time I read the story I saw something else.

I think Elijah started wearing too much of the responsibility. He lived a high-profile, dangerous life, speaking God’s words of judgement to a king who didn’t want to hear them. What he said, and what he did, revealed God.

It was God’s power that burned the drenched sacrifice on the rebuilt stone altar, but did Elijah get too involved in shouting at the priests of Baal? Did he start taking the fight too personally?

Don’t we do that sometimes? God’s doing His part, but all of a sudden we’re carrying loads He never asked us to carry?

In his hurt, though, Elijah shows us what to do. He goes to God. He gets alone with God, and even though he spills out his whole “poor me” rant, Elijah hears God. God meets him there. And Elijah doesn’t leave that place until God sends him out.

Mighty and holy God, You are well able to work through Your people when we obey You, but sometimes we start looking at the work more than at the One who sends us. Moses and Elijah had these moments, and we do too. In Your patient mercy, please help us see when we go off-track, and please draw us back to Yourself to sit in quiet and renew our spirits. Teach us to trust You in all things instead of trying to forge ahead in our own power. Teach us to rest in You.  

Instead of a song this week, I have two other links for you:

At Choose NOW Ministries, Amber Frank talks about Finding time for the One who matters most.

And at Christian Work at Home Ministries, Jill Hart shares a video devotional about Missing the Point.

*The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Perseverance: 6 Links and a Silly Song

Usually when responsibilities pile up and I feel overwhelmed, I burst into a plaintive quote from Dr. Seuss:

This mess is so big and so deep and so tall, I cannot clean it up, there is no way at all! (from The Cat in the Hat)

Last Saturday morning a couple of large household projects were weighing on my mind, and I tried to cheer myself up by turning it into a song:


Sumo, on my shoulders: I’m not happy.
Sumo, on my shoulders, makes me frown.
Sumo, on my shoulders, is so heavy,
Sumo, almost always, brings me down.

Sumo on my shouldersWith many apologies to the memory of John Denver, you can sing these words to the tune of “Sunshine on My Shoulder”. Indeed, that’s a much better song to sing, so go ahead. And no, I’m not embarking on a new career as an artist or a lyricist.

It’s true, though: things pile up in our minds and they do bring us down. And that’s not the way God wants us to live. I’ve been struggling with this lately, trying to be more faithful in my responsibilities without burning myself out. “I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:13, NLT*)” but I need to focus on one thing at a time and do that thing in His strength instead of on my own.

Sumo on my shoulders1

I believe God gives us enough hours in the day to do the things He intends us to do in that day. Sometimes I need to remind myself of that, to talk that Sumo off my shoulders. Lately I’ve found a lot of freedom in the Bible’s promise of wisdom for those who ask (see James 1:5 and my post “Is Your Loyalty Divided?“). God, I need wisdom to see what to do when, and to not think about the other stuff.

Here are six links I’ve found in the past few days that are helping me learn the lesson even better:

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

[Linking with Janis Cox’s Wednesday’s Word: Perseverance]

Handle With Care

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.
2 Timothy 2:15, NIV*

Don’t you love it when God takes a verse you’ve known for years and shows you something new in it?

What does it mean to correctly handle the word of truth?

Well, if we prayerfully study the Bible, mindful of context and culture, looking for what God really says instead of for ways to justify our own opinions, we’re learning to handle it correctly. We can learn to live by its precepts and to trust God’s character. (And we need to learn how to share it appropriately as God leads, in a loving and non-aggressive manner, but that’s another blog post.)

This week I’ve seen another layer of meaning. Although it may be blindingly obvious to everyone else, my Wednesday posts are where I share what God is teaching me, so here goes:

To correctly handle the word of truth, we have to believe it.

Not just believe intellectually that it’s the inspired, inerrant Word of God, but believe the promises God whispers to our hearts and spirits.

Believe God instead of believing the lies.

If I’m feeling scared, am I going to believe the fear and its many whispered lies about inadequacy and failure, or believe the truth? God is with me. In Christ I can do all things. And if I fail, He can do something with the pieces and He will still love me.

Feeling down, will I believe what that insinuates about my worth or will I receive the truth that God delights in me?

Last week’s post was about not believing the lies. And I’ve posted before about not believing our feelings. I don’t think I’ve clearly seen until now that not only do the feelings often lie, but that we have a choice over which source we’ll believe.

Promise-keeping God, thank You for Your written Word. Help us recognize Your truth, and help us to use that truth in defence against the lies of the enemy, of the culture around us, and our own feelings and misunderstandings. Help us believe You, not just in our minds, but in our hearts and spirits. Help us act on the truth You give, so that others can see the difference You make.

 “You Shine” by Brian Doerksen asks why we should be afraid or discouraged when God is Who He is.

*New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

A Writer’s Angst

I have two unpublished novel manuscripts that I’m about to revise yet again. With most of the publishers who handle Christian fiction based in the US, it’s hard for a Canadian or other nationality of writer to get accepted. (And do we really fit into a market largely aimed at a culture that’s at least subtly different from our own? But that’s another story or post… or rant.)

After a critique session at Write! Canada, one of the faculty graciously offered a phone-coaching session to help me see the bigger picture for my fiction. Where do I fit? What’s my target audience? My purpose? My message?

As we talked last week, some of that came together, but afterward I felt totally frustrated and out of my depth, ready to chuck it all and just write for fun. I’m not a big-picture person, my brain isn’t wired that way. How am I supposed to come up with this stuff?

Wait a minute, this was the same discouragement I’d carried with me to Write! Canada this year—where God set me straight to seek Him first instead of the work. Where I repented and thanked Him and renewed my joy.

No way am I going back there again. Instead, I prayed.

My thoughts flashed to Moses’ “Must we bring you water out of this rock?” (Numbers 20:10b, NIV*) where he struck the rock and blew it big time.

Moses-style frustration has been my problem before. This time, seeing the connection broke the pattern and helped me get back on the path.

God knows the target audience for my fiction, if there is one. I don’t have to supply it, I just need to ask Him. He knows the best genre for me too, and He can help me recognize any signposts He has for me along the way. It’s not about me, and it’s not up to me alone.

Note to self: Stop trying to do God’s job.

Seek Him first.