Grocery shopping is hard work. With so many artificial additives in food, you have to scrutinize the gobbledygook on labels to be sure of what you're getting.

Have you ever bought something you thought was meat and then discovered upon closer inspection that it wasn't meat at all? What in the world is a byproduct, anyway? According to Webster's Dictionary, byproduct means an outgrowth, offshoot, or consequence of something else. What is an "outgrowth" or "consequence" of meat, and should we be eating it?

It's important to read labels on the backs of packages because what's on the front is often misleading. Unsuspecting parents buy so-called fruit snacks for their kids, thinking they are a nutritious alternative to junk food. In reality, many are 99 percent sugar with imitation fruit flavor and a bunch of chemicals thrown in which I can't even pronounce. Why not just give your kid a banana? Advertising for juice drinks is just as misleading. Mostly water and sugar, many of them aren't even close to being real juice from a real fruit.

The problem of confusing labels and deceiving wrappers extends beyond the grocery store. In life as well as on the pantry shelf, things wrapped in pretty packages often contain stuff that's not good for us and may even be dangerous. Likewise, what is good for our character sometimes doesn't look appealing at first glance.

For instance, God has wonderful gifts planned for us; but they often come "wrapped" in bad situations. Do you want to be strong and resilient, able to persevere and emerge victorious? These traits come from suffering through trials. Want to be patient? It's a result of waiting and waiting and trusting while you wait some more. We live in a world that focuses on instant gratification, so we are often so focused on the outside wrapping that we miss out on the gift inside.

Your desire is to be happy, but God's desire is for you to be holy. Yes, He wants to bless you, but the blessings He has in mind are things like strength and endurance. We often whine when these gifts come our way because we don't like the way they're wrapped.

When things seem hopeless to me and I can't imagine why God would allow a bad situation, I think about the day Jesus died. Imagine how his mother felt standing at the foot of the cross looking up at her dying son who had been tortured. She must have wondered how and why God would allow such a situation. Imagine how the disciples of Jesus felt when He was arrested and killed. They had hoped that He would become an earthly king. They must have been devastated and confused. Yet, we know that the death of Jesus was a wonderful thing because of what it meant for us. At the time that He was dying, however, it must have seemed like God had made a terrible mistake or didn't care what was happening.

We don't know what God has mind.
Let's admit it. We don't know what God has mind — at least in the short run of things. Things may look awful to us, but there may be a very good reason for them to be happening. It just hasn't become apparent yet.

Just as our children don't know what's best for them, we as God's children often don't understand what we need either. We're convinced that life should be easy and happy all the time, but our Father knows better.

Isaiah reminds us, "Therefore the Lord longs to be gracious to you ..." (Isaiah 30:18 NAS). If you look for God's gifts, you'll find them. But, don't be distracted by the outward appearance. Trust that God has a great gift for you inside that unattractive wrapper.