All fenced in

Difficult Seasons: How to Survive When Life Doesn’t Go Your Way

Reading Time: 4 minutes
Backpacking Hells Canyon 1979

Two months after our wedding The Redheaded-Wildflower [my wife Dee Dee] and I ventured into the magnificent mountains I first experienced backpacking when I was in ninth grade. Crater Lake sleeps high in the Colorado Rockies and boasts solitude, formidable fishing, romantic nights under a billion stars, and the glacier I’d nearly lost my life on. At the trailhead we saddled ourselves with backpacks, prayed, and started climbing. For the first few miles, we were a couple of newly-married, hippies chattering and dreaming about our first trip into the wilderness together. Soon however we were confronted by a cowboy standing behind a barb-wire fence with a rifle laid in the crook of his arm. Thus began our lessons in how to survive when life didn’t go our way.

No Way Forward

“Trail’s closed,” he barked.

“How can you close off National Forest?” I said. 

“This is private property.” He moved the rifle subtly and The Redheaded-Wildflower grabbed my elbow. I had planned this trip with as much detail as she had our wedding. Reluctantly we hiked back to our old yellow Subaru angry and disappointed. We tossed our packs in the back and sulked back to the highway trying to figure out what now to do with our freeze-dried meals and precious dreams. 

That was not our last exposure to unexpected and disappointing boundaries.

How Can Boundaries Be Pleasant?

Seldom have we viewed them as pleasant. Thus when the Psalmist writes to God, “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places,” we argue like I did with that gun-toting cowboy. 


That’s especially true in this season of my life. In the past few years I could taste retirement the way The Redheaded-Wildflower and I tasted the wilderness that June day in 1979. I’ve been working since I was twelve, the year after my father died. Lawn care, carpentry, maintenance, mining, and then pastoral ministry for forty some years. We’ve planned and prayed and sweated for this season of our lives. 

We’ve got people to see, places to go. There are books to write. 

We began hiking the rugged 486 mile Colorado Trail in May of 2020 and are only 120 miles in. We yearn to spend more time with our kids and grandkids. We have missionary and pastor friends around the world we want to visit and encourage. Only God knows what else.

Derailed Retirement

With those dreams in mind, I retired in February of 2023. But I had contracted COVID-19 in October of 2022 and have been struggling with post-COVID-19 since then. You can read more about that here. Like the cowboy at that National Forest boundary, long-COVID has defeated our plans and deflated our hopes. 

People have asked, “How’s retirement?”

“I don’t know. I’ve had post-COVID.”

Still Psalm 16:6 has been stuck on repeat in my head and heart like an unbidden pop song. “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places.” Boundaries in pleasant places. Boundaries. Pleasant places.

What does that mean? I’ve demanded of God. Post-COVID has dropped harsh boundaries. Brain fog drifts in and out of my head like heavy sea mist. Fatigue is a constant, unwanted companion. My hiking boots hang by the backdoor like phantoms. Our Springer Spaniel, Sir Winston, pouts because I can’t walk and play with him. I can barely leave the house much less travel.

Preparing for Eternity

Over a now rare dinner with friends, I described these struggles.

“Maybe God is preparing you for eternity,” one said. “Not that you are dying,” she backtracked.

I mean, I am, we all are, I thought but nodded and smiled, not receiving her words as a death prophecy. Rather they rang true. When I’ve not been banging my clouded head against these unpleasant boundaries, I have occasionally lifted my eyes above the fence and glimpsed eternal things.   

My health restrictions are exposing me to how knit together are God’s kingdom and daily life. Eternity breaking in now. These boundaries are not bringing comfort by promising a future heaven but bringing hope through showing me heaven here and now.

Eugene Peterson paraphrases Psalm 16:6 as, You set me up with a house and yard. And then you made me your heir!” God’s boundaries give us a place to live physically and spiritually with-in God’s will. God’s boundaries are pleasant because they only allow pain to enter the yard through God’s loving knowledge and powerful redemption. Not that God struck me with COVID-19 to teach me about eternity. On the contrary, God is writing eternity into the boundaries I’ve collided with the last eight months.

What happens when the infinite touches the finite? Sparks fly!

It’s as if God is taking my dull understanding of life to the grind stone.

Reset Your Definition of Success

“Ha, you think your definition of success equals mine? Remember the mustard seed?” God chides. 

In this season I’ve had to see seeds of the eternal in the mundane. How holy and delightful are small conversations, clear-headed moments, short walks, and Sir Winston planting himself by the couch I’m restricted to that day. 

Heaven needs not our big movements, delirious advances, profound breakthroughs. Heaven is made up of holy, sacred, scattered wildflowers of delightful conversations, meandering walks, praise songs, long rests. I’m learning it is through these heaven comes to earth.

Life Is Not A Race

God again: “Life is not a race, a relentless pushing of boundaries, stockpiling accomplishments, flexing your muscles. It is a rhythm of work/rest. Rest is not only for times of exhaustion. Rest is a restorative spiritual discipline. When I am obeying my doctor’s orders to pace myself and take frequent brain breaks, I am obeying God’s command of Sabbath too.

Receive The Mystery

I must do all I can to be healthy while realizing every ounce of my effort measures not even a mustard seed. With past health issues there was usually a prescribed path forward. Physical therapy, tried and true medications, healthy diet, exercise, time. With post-COVID-19 no one really knows what it is and how to deal with it, though research is slowly presenting theories.

This is the most telling preparation for eternity: comfort and faith in not knowing all the answers, even the crucial life and death ones. Boundaries are pleasant because the One at the fence is the good, true, wise, loving Creator of our lives.

12 thoughts on “Difficult Seasons: How to Survive When Life Doesn’t Go Your Way”

  1. Georgie Ann Kettig

    Acts 2:16-18
    “16 But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

    “17 ‘And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God,
    That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh;
    Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
    Your young men shall see visions,
    Your old men shall dream dreams.
    “18 And on My menservants and on My maidservants
    I will pour out My Spirit in those days;
    And they shall prophesy.”

    I have lived the truth of this,… and I do believe that our “old person dreams” are at least as effective as our “younger person visions”,… and now we “prophecy” about the “goodness of God”,… (-:

      1. Georgie Ann Kettig

        … and most likely “deeper prayer”, as well,… so, “it’s all good”,… (-:

      2. Keith Becker

        Eugene, I am praying that God give you pleasant boundaries and will soon include some of the desires He’s put in your heart for people and places. Thanks for reminding me that the divine will meet the earth and sparks will fly.

  2. What a well-written, heartfelt blog post. Thanks for sharing your vulnerabilities so eloquently, while pointing heavenward.

    Looking forward to seeing you healed and whole this life!

    Mike Klassen

  3. Bruce Dawkins

    As we all get older, we’re constantly reminded of our limits and our boundaries. I try to
    smile and appreciate the life I’ve been given.

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