You don’t dictate my checklist

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But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lordlooks on the heart.”1 Samuel 16:7 ESV

We tend to look up to people or be impressed or intimidated by them. It is this very quality that tricks us into putting people on a pedestal and then getting hurt when they fall off, usually on top of us. It’s painful when someone you believe in let’s you down. Finding out someone you trusted isn’t who you thought they were is crushing. 
Meanwhile we strive to be all those things that will make others respect and love us. We make checklists that we follow religiously based on our personalities and the principles in the Bible that we have taken ownership of. We set others up to fall and we set up ourselves to be “found out” when we too fall from the pedestals others have created for us.  
This circle is a dangerous one. It is fueled by our need to identify others and with others. When we hear of a sister or brother in Christ who has “fallen” all too often our first response is “well I thought they were a Christian.” Or we feel that the church has failed to protect us because we have been tricked into believing that someone who is “in church” wouldn’t do that.  

I have heard this verse in 1 Samuel 16:7 used so many times for the “Man looks on outward appearance, God looks on the heart” part. It has been used to separate ourselves from the “fallen ones”.  It has been used as a warning to those who have screwed up. We often forget the first part of the verse. “But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature…” 
Why are we teaching that we are all supposed to straighten up and fly right? Why are we applauding the appearance of men? Why are we teaching checklists that are not biblical? God doesn’t care if we are in church every time the doors are open, God doesn’t care if we have spent two hours every morning reading the Bible and praying, God doesn’t care if we have a six pack in our fridge. God doesn’t care if our music is Christian or non Christian. God doesn’t care if you are all packaged up nice with a smile on your face. He doesn’t care what you wear to church any differently than he does in every day life. Looking good to others does not make us somehow more approved by God. There are no “good christians” and bad “christians” there are only people. People who were bought with a price that are supremely loved and forgiven whose insides are torn and their minds struggling to live up to impossible or worse, possible standards, put on them by other people who are just as loved, forgiven, and torn.  
God sent his son to die to bring us freedom and life. God sent his spirit to live in us and help us live in a very fallen world. The evidence that he lives within us is not on our checklists and cannot be duplicated without him. It will play out in a hugely diverse body of Christ using their gifts and talents, insecurities, failures, and personal checklists shown to them by the spirit of God in their OWN life, to exhibit the glory of God in impossible unity, love, faith, hope, charity, long suffering, gentleness, patience, joy, goodness, meekness and temperance.  

When we do that, what we do changes drastically. We listen to each other and know that all of us mess up. That each one of us struggle with the things that do not please God. The only one on a pedestal is Christ, and we can be there for one another in good times and bad. When we do that, some of us will have the same tastes in music others won’t. Some of us will be in church every time the doors are open and some of us won’t. We will have different contents in our refrigerators and different tastes in clothes. Our personal checklists will bring glory to God. We will fight less and fall less and when one is struggling we will bond together in understanding and love. We will have unity when all circumstances tell us we need to fight each other. We will exhibit the real biblical checklist of the fruit of the holy spirt. We will cling to him and each other. This is what God wants.  

The people of Israel made the same mistake when choosing their first king. They looked at how impressive Saul was. They praised him for the things he exhibited that looked right. A long hard and painful road followed. King David did not look the part but his desire to do what was right brought peace to the land. When he fell he got back up. God lifted him back up. The man who slept with Bathsheba and murdered her husband was called a man after God’s own heart. His status with God did not change when he fell. When God looks at us he sees the blood of his son. We are justified by his grace. We can never do anything that makes him look at us in anger again. We don’t have to beg our way into his good graces EVER again. Our sin grieves us because God loves us enough to reveal it to us and help us get rid of it, not because it means that God is mad at us. We can’t clean up our hearts he sees and loves us no matter how we feel. We can’t not walk with him because he won’t leave us.  
Let’s stop defining christians by our own checklists and realize that God has that in his hands.  Lets stop making others live by our own checklists. Let’s love people and be there for them. Let’s stop applauding what looks good. Let’s allow people to be real with us and let’s be real with others. We don’t have to control each other. Our lives should not be run by guilt and obligation. We do not serve them. We serve a God who holds us in his hands and can use all our flaws and strengths to lift others up and make beauty from ashes. 

Praise him in the Hallway! 

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I listened carefully as the pediatrician articulated exactly what my thoughts had been for a few weeks concerning our son Owen. Incredulously I realized that my fears were justified and needed to be addressed for his protection. We had been through so much in the past six months. With his history of trauma related to loss it was basically inevitable. I just didn’t expect to hear it from a doctor. 
Major life changes, including the loss of Baby H, had taken their toll. His body remembers what his brain shuts out. Owen is a very outgoing, challenge loving, up for anything, sports oriented, loving and creative little boy. Even though he was young (11 months) when he came to us, the trauma he had experienced over the loss of his family still effects him. In times of insecurity he insists on knowing where everyone in our family is and needs to have us close and safe. Baby H leaving in the middle of some of the hardest times in our life added to that trauma even though it wasn’t related.  

Even though he is ok, he still struggles with missing her and understanding why she can’t be with us. Our pediatrician said that to continue fostering would only exacerbate his trauma. It is necessary to close our home. When he is older he can better understand the foster care process and yet his history of loss leaves him vulnerable in ways our biological children are not. So, for his safety, we will no longer foster.

Someone once said: when God closes a door praise him in the hallway. When I look out our currant “hallway” I see a 360 degree angle of beautiful reminders of the love God has for us and the memories we share and the amazing unit our family has become. My husband has a new job, our church is getting closer than ever to each other and functioning so well, our family and friends, our life, is wonderful. I am fine with praising him in the hallway and I am excited to see what door God opens next. 

In the meantime, we will be filling out our paperwork and completing our home study to be available to children in foster care who need a permanent home. We will see what God does!

Crossing the Jordan

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A while back I wrote about bathing in the Jordan river.  Today I want to share with you another story about the Jordan River, and twelve points God has shown me from it. One for each stone!!

Joshua 4:1When all the nation had finished passing over the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, 2 “Take twelve men from the people, from each tribe a man, 3 and command them, saying, ‘Take twelve stones from here out of the midst of the Jordan, from the very place where the priests’ feet stood firmly, and bring them over with you and lay them down in the place where you lodge tonight.’”4 Then Joshua called the twelve men from the people of Israel, whom he had appointed, a man from each tribe. 5 And Joshua said to them, “Pass on before the ark of the Lord your God into the midst of the Jordan, and take up each of you a stone upon his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the people of Israel, 6 that this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ 7 then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever.”8. And the people of Israel did just as Joshua commanded and took up twelve stones out of the midst of the Jordan, according to the number of the tribes of the people of Israel, just as the Lord told Joshua. And they carried them over with them to the place where they lodged and laid them down[a] there. 9 And Joshua set up[b]twelve stones in the midst of the Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests bearing the ark of the covenant had stood; and they are there to this day. 10 For the priests bearing the ark stood in the midst of the Jordan until everything was finished that the Lord commanded Joshua to tell the people, according to all that Moses had commanded Joshua.The people passed over in haste. 11 And when all the people had finished passing over, the ark of the Lord and the priests passed over before the people. 12 The sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh passed over armed before the people of Israel, as Moses had told them. 13 About 40,000 ready for war passed over before the Lord for battle, to the plains of Jericho. 14 On that day the Lord exalted Joshua in the sight of all Israel, and they stood in awe of him just as they had stood in awe of Moses, all the days of his life. 15 And the Lord said to Joshua, 16 “Command the priests bearing the ark of the testimony to come up out of the Jordan.” 17 So Joshua commanded the priests, “Come up out of the Jordan.” 18 And when the priests bearing the ark of the covenant of the Lord came up from the midst of the Jordan, and the soles of the priests’ feet were lifted up on dry ground, the waters of the Jordan returned to their place and overflowed all its banks, as before.19 The people came up out of the Jordan on the tenth day of the first month, and they encamped at Gilgal on the east border of Jericho. 20 And those twelve stones, which they took out of the Jordan, Joshua set up at Gilgal. 21 And he said to the people of Israel, “When your children ask their fathers in times to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 22 then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.’ 23 For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we passed over,24 so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, that you may fear the Lord your God forever.”[c]

1: The Past

(Vs 1) the Israelites had just come through slavery, rescue, wandering in the wilderness, and had just witnessed a miracle, the Jordan river had been parted for them to walk across on dry land into the land God had promised them. (God parted water to get them out of Egypt and parted water to get them or of the wilderness and into the land he had provided.)

2. The pain

In the chapters before we read about them loosing Moses. They had also lost countless others in the wilderness. They had been hungry, thirsty, scared, rebellious, deceitful, fearful and lost. They didn’t know if they could trust Joshua 

3. The performance 

In order to comfort them from their loss and insecurity God did a miracle. He parted the water to show them that Joshua was his chosen leader for them and to show hem his power and provision for them and that his promises were true. 

4. The purpose (of the stones)

God’s plan was for them to remember all he had done for them. Now that they were safe and getting ready to enter their land. He wanted them to gather stones for the purpose of building an alter of remembrance.

5. The Position (of the stones)

The stones were at the bottom of the middle of the river they had just come across. It was still parted for them. Imagine after what happened to Pharos armies 40 years before when the Red Sea that had been parted for them crashed down, taking your family through another dry path flanked by walls of water. The Bible tells us  that they went quickly!! Sometimes the things God gives us to remember come out of the bottom of the biggest deepest obstacles we face.

6. The progression 

God did not say: collect stones from your new land, or grab a rock on your way through for an alter. He instructed them after they had all already crossed to go back into the middle of the river to get the stones. Can you imagine how scary it would be to go back into that river? Sometimes we have to revisit things we have been through in order to process and move on. We have to trust God enough to know he will keep us safe as we move through the steps he has given us to take.

7. The Process
They had to choose their own stones. What we choose to remember stays with us. The rest fades. We have to choose to remember the things God does for us! 

8. The personalization 
Each of the twelve men going in to retrieve a stone represented his tribe. His family. His people. I can imagine each one of them memories flooding their minds as they carried their load to shore. Each stone had personal stories attached. Each stone was a personal testimony to contribute. Their part of the story to be remembered. It was their part of the story to be shared with others. Our personal history with God is valid in our future. 

9. The presence (of God)
The water parted in response to the priests feet entering the water while they carried the ark of the covenant. The people followed. The Ark was where the presence of God dwelled. We can remember that God goes before us. He was there in the beginning he goes before us and comes back to go with us. Interesting picture. They went across the river then back into the river to get the stones..🤓 The presence of God is safe. The priests were standing in the river holding the ark, the water stayed parted while they were there. Each man had to go where the presence of God was to find their stones. It was only after the men and the priests left the water that it came crashing down again. 

10. The perpetuity 
The alter made from those stones was to last for generations to come! So that the people of God would remember him and the work he did. To bring glory to God and hope to his people. It was to continue! 

11. The preparations
God used Joseph to bring his people into Egypt. They enjoyed many years of prosperity, comfort, provision, and happiness. Then things started to get bad. There were enslaved then set free to wander learn and grow before God brought them across that river. He brought them to Egypt to get them to the promised land. He brought them to Egypt and through the wilderness to prepare for the promised land!
12. The Plan
The fact that God brought them out of Egypt did not cancel out the importance or beauty of bringing them into Egypt in the first place. The pain of the wilderness caused them to long for the past even though the past was slavery. But God’s plan, even in pain, was not to go backward or leave them. It was to bring them to their own land. God used the hope of the future to sustain his people from the beginning and still does it today! We can look back on our lives before, the good times, with thanksgiving. Just because things change and the change is hard, doesn’t mean we have to block it out or see it as bad. The past is a reminder, the present is temporary, our future is secure! 

Over the Past few months our family has undergone major changes. There has been a lot of hurt, loss, confusion, and wandering. I feel like we have been in the desert like the Israelites and God has brought us across the Jordan into safety. Now he wants us to collect some stones for remembrance. I will share my collection with you soon! 

Baby H

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John 11:35 Jesus wept

Last summer, on my way home from target, I answered the phone.  It was our licensing counselor.  There was a baby girl, born five days before, that needed a place to go.  We said yes.  Three hours later I drove to the back of the office building to meet a case worker holding a tiny little baby wrapped in a hospital blanket wearing only a onesie that looked to be two sizes too big.  She handed her to me. Then Kaitlyn and I put her into a car seat. I signed papers and grabbed the hospital bag and a suitcase and we left.  Just like that our world changed forever again.

I don’t think that you ever get used to the feeling when a new child is handed over to you. The weight of the world is placed in your hands wrapped in a beautiful human gift.  You are excited and terrified.  Falling in love is easy. The case will have you feeling raw and like your insides are hanging outside your body with no protection.  You will fight hard for the child who can’t fight for themselves.  You love them as your own even knowing they aren’t. It’s how it goes. Every time it is the same, every time it is immensely different.  

This time we had it on good authority that this baby wouldn’t be with us much longer than six weeks. She was supposed to go to her paternal grandmother and then very quickly back to the parents who loved her, wanted her, and were going to fight hard to be able to bring her home.Through the course of the next few months we soon realized that none of that would  happen.

Meanwhile she grew and developed and got fatter and fatter and cuter and cuter! We loved her and she loved us.  It was so much fun to dress her up and I carried her everywhere wrapped to my body. She was safe and warm and loved beyond measure on our side. On the other side of the case was feelings of abandonment and frustration with the way everything was being handled. We had very little say in any of it.  Being home and in our every day world was a sanctuary to bury ourselves in to rest after venturing over to the other side fighting hard for the protection and rights of this child we loved. 

Three months in we began to believe that she would eventually be able to be ours forever.  Even though we knew things could change at any moment. They did.

We learned that her maternal grandparents had been searching for her, begging anyone that would listen to help them connect with her.  They would complete their home study and we would see what would happen. 

We were encouraged to get to know them and to keep in contact with them during the process.  I was petrified.  As we began to get to know them, their love and care for her was glaringly evident.   We began falling in love with them too, just like we did with our Baby H.  We sent pictures and updates and facilitated visitations.  We formed quite a bond with them. Soon we were fighting for all of us not just the baby. Fighting for a chance to know she was safe. We knew she would be safe with them and loved and she would have everything she could possibly need.  

She was seven months old the day I packed all the little things for her that she would be taking to her new forever home.  She looked up at me and smiled as I changed and dressed her.  For all she knew it was just another day.  I knew better. I fought tears all morning. I didn’t want to upset her. I was glad for the preparations that needed to be made. At least there was work to focus on.  Every snuggle and kiss meant more than ever before that morning.  My world was shattering, there would be no more sanctuary.  I dreaded coming home knowing she wouldn’t be there. 

John asked to feed her before work that day. We just wanted to savor every precious moment we had left.  I’ll never forget him sitting there silent tears stealthily inching down his face as she reached up and grabbed his finger while he held her bottle for her.  

Two hours later I handed her to her grandparents. After hugging all together and kissing her good bye I walked out of the DCF office empty handed. I sobbed all the way to the car and all the way home.  Memories flooding my mind from the past seven months. Pushing back the fear that she would feel abandoned by me and that she would need me and I wouldn’t be there for her. That I would never see her again.  

“You signed up for this Rach….you have no right to hurt like this…suck it up and move on….you knew she wasn’t yours…this is your job…no one is going to feel sorry for you…you chose the foster parent life.”

Then I read John 11:35 Jesus wept. In that passage we learn about Jesus finally going to where Lazerous had lived and been sick. He came knowing Lazerous was dead.  He stood at the tomb and prepared to perform a miracle. Before he did so, he wept.  He wept for the pain of loosing a friend. He wept for the pain that his friends felt who had been left behind. He wept for the betrayal his inaction had caused Lazerous’ sisters to feel.  He wept.  HE WEPT? He knew that Lazerous’ death was temporary.  He knew it because he was God and he would be the one to raise him from the dead.  But in his love for his friends and in his humanness, he felt the pain that death caused and he didn’t want that for anyone, including himself.   When I read that I realized: we all make choices in life out of love for others and love for ourselves.  Just because I signed up to be a foster parent doesn’t take away the pain of saying goodbye. I didn’t weep because of the injustice of it all or out of surprise that my baby was taken from me.  I wept because I miss her. I wept because I would have given anything to be with her. I wept because of the pain I saw in her grandparents eyes as they watched their family be torn apart and the joy when she was brought home to them safely. I wept because she was mine and because she wasn’t. I wept for the pain in my husbands eyes when he held her that last time and for my children who would miss her too.  I wept. And it is ok because Jesus wept too.  

Since then we have gotten updates and pictures from her grandparents. They let us know how she is. She is doing great!! Growing and so loved.  It is such a blessing!! 

#beafosterparent #youcantdoit #icantdoit #Godcan

Créme brûlée 

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My family and I have spent the past year dealing with some of the most difficult situations of our lives.  We have faced loss, betrayal, anger, confusion, and pain.  This past year I think that I have cried more than ever.
I wish I could say that I have spent this time clinging to the Lord and that my faith has grown by leaps and bounds. But that would be dishonest.  I have struggled to turn to him, while wanting desperately to hear his voice for me.  There have been times when I have turned to him and his faithfulness has been a comfort to me.  Other times, I have been distrusting of anyone and everyone.  I feel as if I am living in fight or flight mode.  There have been times when only the head knowledge I have of God has gotten me through the day.  I don’t feel safe.  Some of those in my life who I have gone to for advice my whole life have been the very people who have cast me aside and made themselves unavailable to me. My foundations have been shaken.  I am not sure how to handle this.

I can say that the lessons I learned from the joys and sorrows of last year have come into play.  Never once have I felt the need to ask God why is he allowing this.  On the contrary I have been consistently reminded and held by the knowledge that he wrote every one of our days and his plan for us is better than our own, and infinitely better than our enemy’s plan.  I have questioned his timing, and once again submitted to it.

One of the things that I have been thinking about the past few days is Cremé Brulée.  If you have never had it you should try it.  The beautiful soft silky custard has a extremely thin layer of burned sugar on top that when you crack it, it mixes with the custard adding a delicate crunch throughout.  It is magical! The crust cannot be any thicker or any thinner or it will ruin it.  It reminds me of some things I would like to share.

All the news stories and movies and media we are exposed to on a daily basis can cause us to build up a crust around our hearts.  It makes us numb to reality and crave fantasy.

Going through something like we have gone through makes us hyper sensitive to reality.  So much of the crying I have done is from being exposed to other’s pain.This morning as I read the blog of someone I have known my whole life share a story of loss that I didn’t know before, I sobbed at her pain from thirty years ago. Even stories of people I don’t know, impact me more than they ever have.  It is as if the ability to be numb to anything is gone.  I am raw like sashimi.

Maybe one reason God has allowed me to go through this past year was to bring me to a place where he can teach me to have a thin perfect crust like créme brulée.

One amazing thing that has happened in the past year is that John as become assistant pastor of our church.  As we begin our ministry of leadership, I really believe that the cremé brulé crust is important. I think sometimes God allows us to go through tremendously difficult situations to keep us feeling things that we would otherwise be numb to.  It keeps us looking to him, and keeps us feeling other’s hurt, and joy in ways that we just don’t respond as strongly to otherwise.   Leadership requires more than a passing interest in other’s lives.  We have to be able to feel for them and share in their experiences and allow them to share in ours.  We can’t be so numb that we cannot empathize with others.  We cannot have such a wall around our heart that we don’t let others to share our hearts.

The good, the bad and the ugly serve to be a base for the glory of God to be highlighted in our lives.  Think of a page in a book.  All of the information contained on that page is important.  But if you are studying, it is the highlighted parts that you pay the most attention to.  If you hide everything but what is highlighted, the context is lost.  It is the same in our lives.  It is all the information that is important. Our success, our failure, our pain, our sin, our faith, our experiences, all of it that causes the work of God in our lives to be highlighted.  The highlighted parts are the most important.  The Glory of God and his amazing grace.

I remember my pastor’s wife crying with me when I locked my daughter in the car when she was six months old. It was hot and we were praying the ambulance would get there soon. She was more than just sympathetic she actually felt the distress with me and shared in that experience.  That was over 10 years ago and I will never forget it.   That is the kind of Pastor’s wife I want to be!

Ministry is hard.  It can be rewarding, and it can be painful.  If our crust is like créme brulée, we have the thin shell of faith that still allows the vulnerably that allows us to let things break through to get to the beautiful heart that God has given.  It allows us to share in each other’s lives and find our protection in Him.  That sugar on top cannot be raw, it must be burned to make the crust.  We can go through the fire and God can make us into the perfect balance of delicate crust and soft silky custard, that reveals the Glory of God and makes us relatable to others. The crust is meant to be broken without ruining the desert. We can allow our shell to break while knowing that won’t destroy us! Only God can give us that crust.  Oh Lord take the pain that I am going though from this fire.  Help me not to put up walls but to allow you to work in me so that my crust is what you want it to be!

This red earth 

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I looked up through the windshield of my van to see the hearse facing me in the drizzling rain. How appropriate on this sad occasion. My heart was filled with emotions and I was hit with the reality of life and death. One thing stopped me cold in my tracks (if it is possible when one is in the seated position in the first place) The sight of my father in law, my husband, and son with the family and group of pallbearers carrying the casket to the vehicle that would transport it to its final resting place. His final resting place.
We came to Georgia for my grandfather in law’s funeral. Something like grief always seems to illicit the pondering of life. Grandpa Andersen was one of the most kind, loving, funny, hard working, and talented men I have ever met.  

As we ponder his life, inevitably, we consider the ways his life intersected with our own. One of those ways was his name. My father in law was named after him, as was my husband, and my oldest son. The Four Johns, as we called them have always been close. So much alike in many ways. Each amazing trait passed down from Grandpa,mingling with their own unique abilities and character. I see a little of each one in each other. I have always admired them all.  

The thing that struck me the most this time involves my son. You see your child on a moment by moment basis through out the day, you know them better than anyone else. And yet, they grow up almost with out notice. Most twelve year olds are care free and playful, Johnny is no exception. However he possesses a groundedness, an ability to take things seriously, sometimes in the extreme. We didn’t know when we packed to leave on this trip that Johnny would be a pallbearer. As I watched him help carry his great grandpa to the hearse, it dawned on me how big he actually is. Physically he stands around 5 foot seven, the shoes we bought him the night before were a men’s size twelve. But it was his maturity in the midst of his grief and the strength I saw there that crushed me. It was as if I was seeing a glimpse of the man he will become and in so many ways already is. At the same time seeing a tangible line that made him who he is, both genetically, and learned.  

Some of the learning was done directly through Grandpa. The times he spent in his company observing and soaking in what he saw and heard, and everything Grandpa stood for and taught. Other things he learned indirectly from Grandpa through my father in law and my husband. Everything culminating in that coming-of-age moment. Standing with the strong men and women of his family. Carrying a heavy load like a man, emotionally and physically with the help of others who share in the special legacy left to them by John William Andersen Sr. With heavy hearts we said our final goodbyes to Grandpa Andersen and the red earth of Georgia in which he now rests.  

This is the Day

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I have been drawn to this passage the past week. These verses stuck out to me today.

Eccl. 7:13 Consider the work of God: who can make straight what he has made crooked? 14 ¶ In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him. 

There are times in our lives where we want God to restore something we had. We even want it sometimes so that it will bring God glory. I often want God to straighten out messes for me. Until today I never thought that sometimes God is the one who has made it crooked? Just because it isn’t straight doesn’t mean it isn’t God. 
The point is to be obedient and to allow God to direct our lives. He has made the good ones as well as the “bad”. 

Lamentations 3:22-23English Standard Version (ESV)

22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;[a]his mercies never come to an end;23 they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

The “new mercies every morning” in this verse means that not only is God available to us every day, but he tailors the mercies and strength we need for each day’s specific needs!! Puts Ecc 7:14 into perspective doesn’t it?

This is the Day that the Lord has made we will rejoice and be glad in it!!!