How to Have Hope in Tough Holidays
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David and Meg RobbinsAs 17-year veterans of Cru, David and Meg Robbins have served in a variety of capacities, beginning as ﬁeld staff at their Alma Mater, the University of Mississippi. In 2003, they moved to Pisa, Italy, to serve as overseas team leaders for Cru. It was during that time they fell in love with ﬁnding ways to relate and communicate with a secular, pluralistic culture. They trained to serve overseas long-term until God surprisingly led them back to the U.S.
Facing disappointment in a hard holiday season? FamilyLife President David Robbins & his wife Meg grapple with how to have hope through grueling realities.
How to Have Hope in Tough Holidays
Dave: So Christmas is coming up.
Ann: So exciting!
Dave: You love Christmas.
Ann: I do love it!
Dave: You really do. I’m not even going to get into why, but do you remember our first Christmas in California?
Dave: What do you remember?
Ann: That we were all by ourselves.
Dave: Yes, we were in seminary.
Ann: It was awful.
Dave: We moved to California from—you know, grew up in Ohio—and literally, we were on staff with Athletes in Action in Nebraska; decided that God had called us, long-term, to ministry; so we should go get trained. We ended up in seminary in California. We had two friends, Bob and Judy; remember?!
Dave: They invited us to their house. We had nobody—we had nowhere to go for Christmas—it was like so lonely.
Ann: They said, “You guys, we feel so bad you are going to be all alone. Come with us to our family’s Christmas. We cook; it’s amazing. You’re going to love this.” We get our bags packed.
Dave: Yes, we are all excited, sitting by the front door at 8 am. They said they would be there at 9 am; they never showed! We sat there all day. [Laughter] That night, we get a call like 7/8 o’clock; they are like, “We are so sorry! We forgot!” [Laughter]
Ann: It was awful; it was the worst Christmas ever.
Dave: They forgot us!
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: Christmas is coming up; and it can be a high, or it can be a low like that.
Ann: This can be—and statistically-speaking—one of the hardest seasons; because of depression, expectations that aren’t met. It can be really hard; because you are assuming everyone is having this wonderful Christmas, and you are alone.
The truth is—this is one of the things I love about FamilyLife Today—is we are here for you, and you are not alone.
Dave: Yes, it’s a beautiful thing. We get to meet you right where you are, which is really Jesus meeting you—
Dave: —right where you are. You know, I hope, as you come to the yearend and think about your life and the future, I hope you feel like, “I need FamilyLife. God meets me through this broadcast.” What you need to know is we need you as well, and we are inviting you to join us prayerfully, and even financially, to make a donation at yearend.
Ann: Well, and the great part is, at this time of year, every donation you make is going to be matched, dollar for dollar.
Dave: That means doubled, because of some generous donors who believe in this ministry, hopefully, the same way you do. We’re inviting you: “Join us. This is the kind of help and hope we bring to your home and other homes as well.” Man, we invite you to join and be our partners. Here is how you do it: just go to FamilyLifeToday.com, make a donation there; or you can call us at 1-800-FL-TODAY, and that money will go to impacting families all around the world. Let me say, “Thank you,” because it really means a lot to us for you to be our partners.
We’ve got the president of FamilyLife, David Robbins, and his wife Meg with us. Guys, welcome to FamilyLife Today.
David: Good to be here, team.
Ann: Woo! We love having you guys!
Dave: We are glad to have you here, and David’s the president of FamilyLife. We love it when we get to have you two in the studio, because we get to hear our president’s perspective, not only on your life, but on the ministry of FamilyLife.
Let’s talk about this: Christmas or holidays. You know we just had Thanksgiving; we’re moving toward Christmas. Do you remember any seasons?—Christmases?
Meg: Oh, my goodness! When you started to talk about that story, I immediately thought of our very first Christmas together, which by the way, that it so sad that you—[Laughter]
Ann: Isn’t that sad?!
David: That is sad; that’s hard.
Meg: We’re laughing but, also, crying inside.
Dave: Hey, Bob and Judy, if you are listening, we love you! They felt so bad.
Meg: I feel sad for them too.
Our first Christmas—so we got married the week of Thanksgiving—so we were on our honeymoon for Thanksgiving. Our pre-marriage counselor knew my family really well and knew/he knew a lot about David’s family. He said, “You know what? Your parents—all of your parents love you a lot—they are so awesome. They are very family-oriented; not everybody has this. But your challenge is going to be leaving and cleaving well—you know, leaving in a healthy way—that doesn’t mean you cut your family off.”
His suggestion was: “Why don’t you celebrate all of the first holidays on your own and kind of set some—it doesn’t mean you have to do it forever—but just the first year.” We were like, “That is such a good idea. We would never have thought of that.” I was kind of thinking, “That sounds kind of sad, because Christmas with[out] family.” But I’m like, “You know what? We’re creating our own family. This is great.”
We just kind of mentioned to our—[Laughter]
David: Well, we mention; we tell; we inform.
Ann: This is what I’m waiting for.
Meg: It wasn’t really a discussion. We just kind of said, “Hey, our marriage counselor said this would be a good idea, so we’re going to spend Christmas by ourselves.”
David: On Christmas Eve, we were with Meg’s family—which you have five siblings—and it’s raucous, and it’s amazing. Christmas is a really big—
David: —deal, like it is for you, Ann.
Meg: Well, we were getting ready to leave to drive back home;—
Ann: —on Christmas Eve.
Meg: —because we lived about an hour-and-a-half away.
Dave: I’m guessing everybody else is going to be together on Christmas.
David: Oh, yes.
Meg: Pretty much the rest of my family.
David: I’m just picturing myself, reaching behind the tree for presents that are ours to pack them in the car; you know? [Laughter] We’re making an ordeal; and at some point in that ordeal,—
Meg: Somebody is like, “Well, if you weren’t leaving, this wouldn’t be such a problem.” Little comments start coming out. I’m like, “Oh, they are not very happy about this”; but I didn’t know!
Dave: They’ve talked about it.
David: They talked about it a lot.
Meg: They’ve all talked about it.
David: They tell their peace. We’re mulling over what we are doing. We decide, “Let’s…” “They’re going to do it,”—they’re like—“Nope! You’re going to do it; you are going to do it.” We were willing to stay; they were like, “No, get in the car.”
Meg: We were like, “Let’s just stay.”
David: So we pack up all of our presents from everybody, and we set out.
Meg: We get in the car; and we get about a mile down the road, and the car dies.
David: —a mile away.
Dave: No way!
David: Totally dies. [Laughter]
Meg: Totally dies. We call home; and we’re like, “Okay, so little bit of a problem. [Laughter] Our car died.” We’re all just dying, laughing at this point. They were like, “No, we’re going to bring you our car. You can take it and bring it back.” We were like, “No, this must be the Lord saying, ‘Stay here’”; so we did stay. [Laughter]
David: The first Christmas was with her family.
Dave: Well, there is something—we all know the holidays sort of bring out sort of highs and lows; it can often be a really stressful time for families going through this stuff—I mean, that’s hilarious. [Laughter]
Ann: That is funny.
Dave: That is just hilarious.
Let’s talk about seasons of—
Ann: —when it’s hard.
Dave: —struggle; you know, when it’s hard.
David: Our first baby is a story of totally different expectations. When he came, he was an amazing gift to us. God created Him exactly like He intended to create him and shaped him in Meg’s womb; but he was created with a genetic disease called cystic fibrosis that effects multiple things, including lungs, and reproductive system, and digestive system. It’s a full-orbed thing that sent us into a trusting season, combined with: “Our whole life is about to change”; you know? Everything changes with a birth of this kid, [whom] God has gifted us with.
Dave: Do you remember when you found out? I mean, was it early in the pregnancy?
Meg: It was at the 20-week ultrasound. We went, just assuming regular scan; you will see all the things.
David: We had a miscarriage before—just a year before—so: “Alright, we made it to the 20-week mark. Chances are better.”
Ann: You’re hopes are getting high.
Meg: Yes, very true; because the first few ultrasounds had been nerve-wrecking. This one felt like, “Okay, we’re at the middle; this feels a lot better.”
We could just tell by looking at the ultrasound tech’s face that something wasn’t quite right; but our doctor came in and just said, “You know, we see something that isn’t exactly what we expected to see. It’s called echogenic bowel. Something in his stomach is more solid than it should be, and this could be”—listed off five things—“no big deal. There is a small chance it could be a symptom of cystic fibrosis.”
I had to be tested if I was a carrier; and then, David would have to be tested. I just remember getting in the car that day—
David: We got into separate cars,—
Meg: We did,—
David: —because we drove separately.
Meg: —we had driven separately.
Ann: Wait! Take us back. David, were you in there for the ultrasound?
David: Yes; was there, totally. I remember when cystic fibrosis was mentioned. The only context I had, Dave, was Boomer Esiason—
David: —the great quarterback, whose son had cystic fibrosis. I was like, “I’ve heard of that.”
Ann: Did you—
David: When we had been there before, just a year earlier;—
Ann: Oh, with the miscarriage.
David: —but then, this one was different. It was a flood of: “What is it?” There was a mystery involved instead of a finality involved, where you had to process grief. There was a shifting of expectations and mystery. We didn’t/like we just kind of looked at each other, “Okay; Meg is going to get tested/bloodwork done”; but I remember us getting into separate cars. That’s when it kind of hit for both of us.
Meg: Yes; I remember getting in the car. It was like the Lord just whispered to my heart, “I don’t make mistakes.” It reminded me of—actually, a year before—we had been at a conference. Some sweet friends, Brad and Anya Hopp, had been sharing about a pregnancy that they had that their child didn’t seem to have any brain matter. They had been told: “You need to abort this baby.” They were in another country at the time. They just really felt like, “Well, we’re not going to do that. We really believe God has written a story for our child.”
She went on to share that God had put on her heart Psalm 18:30: “As for God, His way is perfect.” Their child went on to be born. She is still living to this day—and that was—I mean, I think she is probably about 18; maybe older now. She does have complications, but she brings so much joy to their family. As I sat in the car, the Lord just reminded me of that verse, Psalm 18:30: “As for God, His way is perfect.” I just felt the Lord give me this sense of confidence that He was making Ford exactly the way He wanted to make him.
It was scary; and the next several weeks of getting tested—and we’re both carriers—and realizing, “Okay, probably, this baby is going to have CF.” There were many ups and downs, and have been through the years; but I feel like the Lord just kind of whispered that to me, from the beginning, to let me trust that this part of His plan and start of the story that He is writing for Ford and for our family and be able to cling to that when things got really hard and scary.
David: For me, I remember it was the next day, walking to work, and just a verse coming to my mind about how God numbers our days and just kind of felt the Lord’s promptings of there is no shortened life. He numbers every one of our days. In the
24 hours I had been processing, it was a lot around challenges we may face while he is alive; but how long will he live? God met me right in that moment of: “He numbers our days. There is no shortened life; enjoy every day you get.”
We’ve had to trust in that; but yet, those were two—out of twenty-four hours out of the gate—the Lord really spoke to us in specific ways. That’s been a foundation to build on as we keep trusting.
Ann: I think, as parents, fear and worry are two components that are always at the forefront of our minds. We can worry; we can be fearful. That could just dominate your feelings. And you’re saying that/was it a constant surrender? Because now, Ford is how old?
Meg: He is 15, has his driver’s permit.
Dave: Oh, boy!
David: And he is thriving. I mean, it is so encouraging. He does a lot of unseen things that most people—if you meet him, you wouldn’t even know that he has anything going on; but—
Dave: What do you mean he does unseen…
David: He has an hour-and-a-half, at least, of treatments that he does every day. He is the first one awake in our house—very rarely—I mean, God has given him this gift of waking himself up; I’m very rarely having to go wake him up. He’s up a little bit before me, doing his treatment and the vest that shakes up mucous in his lungs. He has to do a lot of unseen things; and he takes—what?—32 pills a day; is that the current?
Meg: About; yes.
David: That allows him to digest food. Yet, those things, along with a few breakthroughs that have happened medically in the cystic fibrosis community—that’s a really big deal—has him thriving currently.
We have had to trust through unknowns. Even moving to a major city like New York City: “Will the smog affect him? But God, we have sensed Your call.” There have been inflection points of trust.
Ann: Well, even with COVID/with this pandemic—
Ann: —that is scary.
Meg: That was very scary, especially in the beginning; I mean, when we didn’t know anything about it. All we knew was this is super dangerous for anyone with complicated lung situations. Ford was sitting right in the middle of that category. You know, it just meant—yes, like you said, Ann—just having to deal with the fear that came with realities. It reminds me of when people say, “Faith is not the absence of fear.” When we choose to trust the Lord, it doesn’t mean all the fear is gone.
Meg: It’s just giving that fear to the Lord and being honest with it. I think for us, even having to be honest with each other, like: “Man, I’m scared,” “Sometimes, I feel really fearful.” Or starting school again: we were at home for a while and getting back in school with COVID.
Then this summer, Ford actually got COVID; and that was definitely very scary. We were actually in Colorado, and the altitude was affecting him. He was having a hard time breathing; but again, the Lord was so present and so faithful. Ford actually was much less fearful than we were; he did really well. After the first three or four days, he fought it off; and God really protected him. We are so thankful.
David: I mean, I think we have to keep embracing often that God can handle our fear; He can handle our honesty. Actually, He invites us to come to Him like little children that He wants to comfort us. He wants to meet us in that place. He doesn’t want us to stay in it, but He doesn’t want us to hide it and try to deal with it on our own. He actually says, “David and Meg, together as a couple, disclose that to one another and then bring it to Me: bring it to Me together and individually.” It’s the way to cultivate intimacy.
I just hear you talking, Meg, and I just go, “Yes, Ford didn’t have that much fear in the COVID situation compared to us.” We learn from him all the time. This kid teaches us so much; all of our kids teach us stuff.
David: But he teaches us so much, day in and day out.
Ann: As parents, there are things that our kids are facing, or we’re facing, that trouble us. I remember even when our son was diagnosed with ADHD. I can remember thinking and saying to God, “I don’t get it. What’s the point? Why would this happen? It seems like he’s struggling in school. It’s affecting his identity and what he feels.” I’ve shared this before; but I thought, “Lord, I need an answer. I don’t understand why You would do this.” I said, “I am going to fast and pray until I hear from You, Lord.”
I start fasting—you guys, I am on day 6—like, “Uhhhh, I need an answer!”; but I’m determined. On day 7, I’m just reading Scripture. This is the Scripture—I had read this so often, because I read the Bible through every year—but it is in Exodus 4:11 when God is talking to Moses. Moses is saying, “I don’t want to go and lead the people”; and he keeps saying to God, “No; it’s not me. Don’t send me.” The Lord says to him, “Who gave human beings their mouths?”—because, remember, Moses is saying, “I can’t speak. I can’t do this.” Then God said, “Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I the Lord?”
I had never considered that verse in terms of what our kids are dealing with, what I’m dealing with—my weaknesses/my strengths—or even my physical disabilities. I started thinking, “Lord, what does that mean?” I felt like that/that assurance of: “God knows what He is doing. He is not surprised”; and not only that, but He can use these circumstances—as you guys are saying—
Ann: —it has shaped you; it has shaped Ford.
Even for our son, he is amazing; he is brilliant. I feel like he has taught me more, as I’ve watched him deal with this, and figure it out on his own.
Dave: Yet, I would add that I think it is harder for us, as parents—
Dave: —to deal with our kids’ struggles than our own.
Dave: It just—it becomes your life; you love them so much—and you’d rather take it on yourself than watch them struggle.
Ann: Dave, I think at Christmas/I think that’s why, sometimes, we are so sad at Christmas because, maybe, our kids are struggling.
Dave: I’ll tell you what. Meg, when you were talking about Psalm 18:30, I thought, “You know, I haven’t read that in a while. I wonder how it starts.” I’m sure you know this—
Meg: Yes, it’s one of my favorites.
Dave: —but man, you have lived out how it starts. David writes: “I love You, Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer. My God is my rock in whom I take refuge; my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.”
I just thought, “What a great passage for any husband and wife/any mom and dad, who maybe”—we know there are listeners right now, who are like, “I’m in that valley right now. I just got in the car, and I wept because I was just told by the doctor about me,” or “…one of my kids,”—
Meg: —or “friend.”
Dave: —or “My husband just said…” or “My wife…”—there are so many valleys we walk through. You are a reminder of Psalm 18; you’ve lived it out. The Lord is our strength. There is no other strength. You’ll never find it, even in a good diagnosis; you’re only going to find it in the Lord.
I would say, “Man, if you are struggling right now, read Psalm 18. Get on your knees, and say, ‘God, You’ve got to meet me right here’”; and He will. I mean, your story is a story of God met you; and actually, out of ashes, has brought incredible—I can’t—I wonder what God is going to do with Ford.
Dave: I mean, what the future is going to be.
David: It’s funny you went to Moses; because when he was three-and-a-half, we were reading a kid’s book around Moses leading the Israelites through the Red Sea. The application in this kid’s book was: “And God made a way for His people, and He will make a way for you.” Ford asked, “Do you think God will make a way for me?”
Meg: The title of the book was Will You Make a Path for Me? Ford turned to us and said, “Do you think God will make a way for me?” He even asked something about cystic fibrosis in that moment, and that became what we prayed for him: “God would You use his cystic fibrosis to make him see You more and show him that this is the path that You have made for him?”
David: I just think our answer could be: “Yes, by faith,”—because of Christmas/because of Jesus coming—because He will come again—and because of His commitment to His people to make a way for them.
Bob: I was thinking of Psalm 46 as I was listening to the Wilsons and the Robbins. The psalmist says that God is our refuge and our strength, our very present help in times of trouble. Martin Luther took that psalm and wrote the great hymn, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God. He is the rock on which our marriage, our family, our lives rest; and when the storms come—and they will come—if we’re not attached to that rock, then we can expect to get tossed about; but when we are planted firmly on the rock, we can stand strong.
If you find yourself facing a storm in your marriage or in your family, we want to recommend to you a book called Together Through the Storms: Biblical Encouragement for Your Marriage When Life Hurts by Jeff and Sarah Walton. We’ve got copies of the book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can find out more when you go online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or order a copy of the book by calling 1-800-FL-TODAY. Again, the book is titled Together Through the Storms; order online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or call to order: 1-800-358-6329; that is 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Well, we have David Robbins still with us here in the studio. David, let me pull you back into the conversation here. This is a critical time of year for us, here at FamilyLife. We’re hoping FamilyLife Today listeners will stand with us and consider making a yearend contribution to support the ongoing work of the ministry of FamilyLife, here, at the end of 2021.
David: Yes, as we are nearing the end of December, we are watching generous partners give and donations coming in. It’s so encouraging, but we are running behind where we need to be in order to meet the match that friends of FamilyLife have given so that your gift can be doubled and the impact of your gift could be doubled.
When I think about the impact of what FamilyLife and FamilyLife Today does, I think about Diane, who wrote you, Bob, recently. I just loved hearing what she told you. She said, “I started listening to FamilyLife Today when my kids were babies. I was a fairly-new Christian, trying to figure out new ways of parenting and working to change broken patterns from the past.” Then she keeps going, “Therefore, I sought FamilyLife Today out and many of the guests you’ve had on to strengthen me in my faith walk, relationships, and parenting. I also found that, the more I learned, I was able to have healthy conversations with my husband; and we grew in our love for one another and in our marriage.”
That is what we are about: growing in oneness with the Lord and oneness with one another in our home. Thank you for the ways that you can give today that can help more homes experience oneness with Jesus.
Bob: David, you mentioned that, during the month of December, every donation one of our listeners makes is being matched, dollar for dollar. We’ve got the matching-gift fund of $1.5 million. We’ve already been hearing from listeners. Thank you to those of you who have gone online or called us and said: “We stand with you. We support what you are all about. You’ve helped us in our marriage/our family; and we want to stand with FamilyLife, going forward.”
We need to hear from a lot more folks over the next few weeks. Today would be a great day for you to go online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY; make a yearend donation. Your donation is going to be matched, dollar for dollar; and we’re going to send you a copy of Dane Ortlund’s book, In the Lord I Take Refuge, a devotional book from the book of psalms, 150 devotions for the year ahead. That is our way of saying, “Thank you for your support, here, at yearend.” We look forward to hearing from you and want to say, “Thanks,” in advance, for partnering with us and helping us effectively develop godly marriages and families.
We hope you have a great weekend. Hope you and your family are able to worship together in your local church this weekend. We hope you can join us on Monday when Jefferson Bethke is going to be here to talk about how we make family the priority it needs to be in the midst of a culture that is trying to pull us away and focus on other things. How do we take back our family? We’ll hear from Jefferson Bethke about that on Monday. I hope you can join us.
On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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