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In this life, you will struggle, but true strength is found when you lean on Jesus and learn that the only way out is through.
You know that feeling on a roller coaster when the train leaves the station and you start climbing up into the sky, higher and higher…
You start to look around and think how high is this thing going to go?
This isn’t what I expected!
Why did I think this was a good idea?
Is this harness gonna hold me?
Tick tick tick… the roller coaster keeps climbing. At that point you’re strapped in, you couldn’t get off if you wanted to and the only way off is through.
You’re stuck on a ride you didn’t design that you can’t control and one that you certainly can’t stop. All you can do is hold on, try not to wet your pants, and hope that you don’t look like a total lunatic when the ride snaps your picture at the worst possible moment.
When people hear my story, they always ask me how I survived it and they say something like “you’re so strong.” I gotta tell you…they couldn’t be more wrong. I’m not “so strong.” I don’t have superhuman suffering strength or super Christian powers. Quite the opposite! I always answer the same way, I survived because of Jesus. I don’t mean Sunday School Jesus where the answer is always “Jesus.” I literally mean Jesus, it’s only by His intervention and the peace of the Holy Spirit that I made it through.
My second answer is always something to do with a roller coaster because to me, this is a picture of struggle. You’re going along enjoying your life, and suddenly you find yourself in circumstances you didn’t ask for or expect. No matter how badly you want off the ride, you’re strapped in with nowhere to go but through.
I’ve found myself in this type of situation a few times in my life and I’m sure many of you have too. Struggle is not fun, it’s not easy, it’s ugly and isolating, but it’s the thing that we all have in common. It ties us together. We may carry it differently, but we all have our wounds.
Speaking of wounds, six years ago I was given a terrible choice. Option one was to abort my 8-month-old baby girl due to a massive brain bleed. Option two was to continue with my pregnancy knowing she’d die on her own. We were told she would not survive the trauma to her brain and if she did, we would lose her shortly after birth.
We had the best doctor, one who truly thought she was giving us the best advice based on the severity of the situation. She believed the lie that heartbreak could be avoided if we “took control” of the situation, that the pain would be less if losing our baby was our decision.
I still catch myself wondering if what they told me was real; if the weeks of waiting for the kicks to stop really happened. The tears in the doctor’s eyes when she said the baby wasn’t going to make it. The phone call to my mom in a season of bad news, asking her to sit down so I could tell her more bad news. The shame I felt for not being able to protect my unborn baby. The wondering whether this was happening as a result of my sin. The time on my knees with my face shoved to the floor begging God for a miracle. The suffocating tears during worship trying to choke out “He is Mighty to Save.“
Did I really survive all that?
“Come to me those who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.” – Matthew 11:28
I can tell you that during this time and other seasons of suffering, God gave me rest, He blessed me with supernatural peace. I say supernatural because there’s no way I could have carried the load on my own. It was impossible and yet He carried me through, I could feel His hand in my life. This doesn’t mean I was walking around carefree praising Jesus for allowing me to suffer. “Oh, praise Jesus this is so awful.” NO! I did not like it, I did not understand it, I was scared and I was grieving the loss of how I thought things would be.
I couldn’t be alone with my own thoughts and I couldn’t carry on a conversation, not exactly a winning combination. There were times I got up in the night to care for my oldest (who by the way has a story for another day) and my thoughts were so overwhelming that I had to turn on a sermon to occupy my thoughts.
You can’t go down the rabbit hole of worry and doubt, or bitterness. You have to guard your heart. For me, that was as simple as saying “whatever is true Sandra. What is true today? Tomorrow has enough trouble of its own.”
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” – Philippians 4:8
“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” – Matthew 6:34
I found myself doing this while going through terrifying circumstances with my girls and while finding my way back from a betrayal.
I’m happy to tell you that my youngest survived despite what the doctor predicted. She was born healthy and happy in December 2013, 8 weeks after the initial news that she wouldn’t make it. She has Cerebral Palsy from the trauma to her brain, a reminder that the time spent on “the roller coaster” was real. In some ways, as moms of children with Special Needs know all too well, I’m still on the ride.
Here’s what I’ve learned from my struggles. God has a plan and He will use your situation for good. That doesn’t mean it feels good or that it makes sense or even that it feels fair. But it does mean that good will come from it. Do you know how many women have helped me because they suffered first or the women I’ve been able to comfort because of the things I’ve endured?
Just before this whole COVID thing, I ran into a sweet woman from church. I barely know her and I’m honestly not sure she knew who I was in the moment, but we shared a moment of mutual heartbreak over a similar struggle. Within 30 seconds of seeing each other, we cried, something I’m not a fan of, and she helped my heart. That is the beauty God brings from struggle!
I read once that being a Christian is not about living without struggle, but living well with struggle. Like the roller coaster situation, it’s often about just holding on until you get through to the other side. Holding on with hope because God promises that in this world we will have trouble but we can take heart because He has overcome the world.
“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33
If you’re suffering today, or someday when you do, because you will, I encourage you to replace your anxious thoughts with God’s truths. Guard your heart against “why me” and bitterness. You aren’t being punished! God isn’t cruel. He’s not waiting with arms folded disappointed and disinterested, testing you to see how you’ll respond.
He is grieving with you, next to you with his arms open to you and He will carry you through.
Are you in a season of struggle yourself? Are you needing encouragement to be able to get through? We encourage you to sit and listen to this song or this one and just BE with Jesus in the middle of it all. Surrender your anxious thoughts to Him. He is not pushing you to get over it, He wants to BE with you THROUGH it.
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