Sunshine Breaking Through

How is it, God, that You bless me so?!?  

We have been walking the most hellacious healing journey over the past fifteen months.  Seventy days of rehab, continuing therapy, massive financial commitment to healing, facing raw emotions and ruptures head on, recovery meetings, unemployment, a growing family to nurture, a marriage to resurrect from the grave.

I’ve swallowed enough ongoing trauma and distress to want to give up the fight.  I have cried out to God — this has been too much, too hard, too long.  And from my wretched gut, I have meant it with everything in me.  It has felt like there is absolutely nothing left in me to give.  Stretched far beyond my ability to fathom what God is allowing us to go through, and how his timing is so different than mine.

“One day at a time” is full of great truth and perspective, but there have also been days that it all felt too heavy, too piled up, too far to walk with no end in sight.

Utter desperation before God.  Circumstances that don’t change.  No calls from any job lead.  No update on God’s plan for us.  Uncertainty, anxiety, pounding down like a harsh spring hail.  Unanswered questions.  Prolonged silence.  Even further delays.  How long can God keep us here?  How long can we wait?

And then the sky broke open with such a compelling warmth and sunshine that my heart hardly knew how to respond to such swelling joy.  All of this hard work, our deepest investment of faith and healing, finally took over with such a strong force we couldn’t help but be transformed by it.

The arrival of spring, the birds’ song that penetrates into my soul, the warmth of the air melting frozen places within me, I can feel it.  My heart is being revived and I am coming to new life.

The amazing thing is that we are still surrounded by much uncertainty.  There is still no job to support our family.  Questions remain unresolved and unsettled.  So what has changed?

We have.

God is transforming this adversity and testing into endurance, depth, and wisdom.  Astronomically more profound than anything we have ever walked, this must be preparation ground for something.  We can’t see where he is taking us yet, but our faith is growing.  We are becoming utterly convinced that God must know what he is doing.  He must be good.  He is indeed healing us and making us new.

Maybe it is because we are that desperate.  We know it is not within our capacity to save ourselves.  God is our only hope.  If he can’t help us, we’re completely screwed.  Have you ever been in a place so deep???

If you haven’t been there, I’m sure my words seem strange.  Maybe you can’t relate.  But, if you have walked seasons so dark and so hard that you weren’t sure if you could survive them, you are not alone.  I’m walking them too.  And God is so near with his purpose, his transforming power, his infinite grace, that this horrific journey is actually a privileged place to grow.

We don’t get to choose our classroom at times.  We play the hand we’ve been dealt.  We learn to accept the journey before us and make the most of it.  Embrace it, believing if God can work anywhere, he can work in this.

And in a way that only God can, right there in the midst of what you’re walking, he brings on the sunshine.  Simultaneously allowing us to experience pain, growth, and new life.  Even when it’s hard, and long, and far too much.  Suddenly you are so profoundly grateful for what he has allowed, because there is nothing so amazing as what God can do.  Glory!!

 

 

 

 

 

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We’re still here. In the long haul.

It is difficult to be somewhere, indefinitely, for the long haul.  When life has taken its toll and it has been too hard, too much, and too long.  The accumulated distress has sunk my spirit, made it  too heavy to keep picking up, keep walking, keep hoping.

I’ve been learning to break things down, small steps, and live in the moment.  It helps my sanity for sure.  It keeps me grounded, helps me focus, and teaches me the concept of one day at a time.  But strangely this day looks much like the one before.

For as much as I’ve tried to rally and keep going, despite our circumstances, there is still apparently more to be learned here.  God hasn’t opened the door yet.  We are 14 months into unemployment, the consequence of my husband’s addiction.

Last year I bought a house plant, with leaves that were full and bushy and abundant.  I was drawn to its life and vitality.  It looked fresh and alive and welcoming.  It seemed like a great thing to nurture and enjoy.

Over the past few months, this beautiful and thriving plant has been thinning out and dropping leaves.   It has gradually gotten far worse.  Pathetic.

I brought it out into the light to see if it could be revived.  Now it sits right there in front of me, and I realize it mirrors how I feel inside.

Drooped.  Depleted.  Worn thin.  Weary deep in my soul.

Like a pile of broken, dried sticks, that you aren’t even sure where to prune.

Little signs of new life, but not really sure if they will hang on and revive.

There are these honest moments, when you know you are doing all you can to live into recovery, but you aren’t sure if it will be enough to take you through to the other side.

When you are in the thick of it, sometimes it is hard to see that you are actually going somewhere.  Especially when you look back and see the toll life has taken and it quite frankly has been far too much.

Bear in mind that I have no clue what I’m doing with these plants, other than enjoying a little bit of nature to care for.  Another plant we had was dying.  (I’m not sure if this is a pattern in my greenhouse skills, or a lesson God intends for me to learn through metaphor.  Most likely both.)  I decided to cut it back and prune off whatever seemed to be holding it back.  It was hardly green at all, mostly just sticks.  You would have thought I could have tossed it to the curb.  And this year, miraculously, it is coming back.

Growth where there could have been death.

I watch these plants, wondering about this mysterious cycle of death and life.  Pruning and transformation.  Cut back to grow further still.

I believe authentic growth goes in cycles.  There are days, seasons even, where God allows us to experience profound pain.  Anguish and despair taunt us.  Silence, waiting, and unanswered prayer.  Days are long, months crash one into the other, and we are still here.

Scripture tells us, Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life.

I want to be in a place of thriving — life-giving abundance in my spirit.  Some days I am.  I am pouring all I have into this healing.  I have the eyes to see the hope.  It’s what we trust in but don’t yet see that keeps us going.  Fulfillment is coming.  It’s worth holding on for.

But there are other times that I’m just worn out from hanging on so long.  No direction or clarity.  No end in sight.  No new word to hold onto.

All of this purging, and pruning, and wrenching of spirit WILL birth something NEW.

Therein lies my hope and my peace, even on the days that leaves drop to the floor.

A Willing Sacrifice

I’ve been wrestling with time.  I cannot master it.  It is a gift given in the moments, but I cannot control it and make it go faster or slower. I can only commit to living it well.  Protect it by blocking out distractions.  Being present with now, for what God has for me here.

It is so hard to give something to God when it ultimately makes us uncomfortable.  Can we willingly give up and surrender things that we don’t like…..specifically, God’s timing?

Can we live in places that are for our benefit, our healing, or our growth, if we would prefer not to be there?  Maybe this place stirs up pain, or unresolved places without answers, or brings us work to do within ourselves.  “Outside our comfort zones” is an understatement.  It stretches us far beyond ourselves.

We have past the point of the year mark where Todd last had a job.  The only clarity I found in prayer was that healing had to come first, then the job.  That became the only path we knew to follow.

God has led us forward, one step at a time, to spacious places of healing.  It has involved rehab, therapy, marriage counseling, and more therapy.  It has connected us with support groups, recovery, studying countless books, and dealing with our stuff.  It has taken us deeper with God and deeper with ourselves.

You would think that we could have the open door that I’ve prayed for unceasingly.

But God has said, not yet.

I’ve been willing to share our story for the greater good of those who might need someone who understands their journey.  For God to be glorified in our mess.  For hurting hearts to be reached.

A friend shared with me about a woman deeply struggling in her marriage.  I felt God give me this post for her, and for others.  I thought about the ones who are new at the two different support groups I attend.  I see the pain in their eyes and I feel it in my own heart.

Just newly raw, starting out on the journey of recovery.  My heart is deeply tender and compassionate for them.  My own story is still so fresh.

I wonder if I could open my own journey and show you the hope that Jesus has put there.  It doesn’t come from shallow platitudes, easy answers, or distant indifference.  It comes from my journey through the pain.

My heart is overflowing with hope.  Sometimes — and I remember the feeling well — we have to borrow hope from others.  We need them to believe for us.  We need them to help us hang on, because on our own we are too overwhelmed.

The surroundings I am in are critical to get this.  Coming from a place where my own prayers are still waiting.  Where my circumstances are uncomfortable, and still painful at times.  And even here, even now, there is hope.

God’s wait is so purposeful.  He is accomplishing transformation in our hearts that we can’t yet fully see.  He is orchestrating details for what will unfold next. But we’ve got to give him time.

There is hope.  Wait it out.  Give him time.

We can’t skip today’s work because it prepares us for tomorrow.  We want to rush out of the pain, rush past the work, but we will miss something crucial.

Perhaps your answer hasn’t come yet.  Your marriage hasn’t fully healed.  Neither has mine.  But I can live today, and give God my willing sacrifice.  Yielding my timing for his.

He has given me just a taste of the joy that’s coming.  Enough to know that there is greater joy ahead than any pain or trial we’ve had to walk.  We don’t have to walk alone.  We can do this.  We can do hard.

 

 

 

Our Redecorated Christmas Tree

I wouldn’t have chosen it this way.  In fact, there is a LOT about our story I wouldn’t have chosen.  Yet God has allowed it to be so.  And my part is to live within this space, and glorify him here.

Our family lights a Chinese lantern in the month of advent to keep watch.  Wait for his coming.  Look for him.  Urge one another on to believe God, even when our soul is weary.

What is it about God’s timing that makes it so incredibly long  and hard to wait?  I have come to terms with waiting by realizing two things.  God is patient (literally read LONG suffering) and he is well acquainted with grief.

He can handle the wait.  He sees the purpose so distinctly, that for the joy set before him, he is willing to endure the cross.  That is a big picture kind of God.

Scripture teaches us, “For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!” 2 Corinthians 4:17

I could argue that present troubles don’t seem small — they are tangled, multi-faceted, and layered in complexity.  They are piled up, ongoing, and anything but small.

And won’t last very long?  A year is made up of living one day at a time,  for three hundred, sixty-five days. Often hour by hour8, 760 hours to be exact, and it can weigh heavy on your shoulders some days.  It can be hard to walk when you can’t see what God is doing.

Yet God’s Word promises that the glory outshines the darkness.  Don’t sink down in the dark any longer.  Arise!

Scripture promises the Lord is coming!  That is what advent is all about.  He came in Bethlehem and he is coming again.  And for those who wait on him in prayer, He is going to show up faithful, again and again.

Our daughters are tired.  Their faith is worn out.  In the past few weeks, both have come to me in tears, fearful and hurting.  Why hasn’t God shown up yet?  They aren’t waiting for Christmas presents.  They are waiting for God to answer their prayers — for God to give their daddy a job.

Perhaps God gave us THIS timing with great purpose.  He gave us THIS Christmas to be like no other.  A life changing, faith transforming, incredible opportunity to believe God — here.  To simplify Christmas to what matters most.  To have the incredible honor of raising our kids in faith and hope, even when the answers haven’t come.

We sat around our lantern and passed a Christmas gift bag.  We had already given Jesus our gift of praise and I told them now it was his turn to give us a gift of his promises.  This is what we hold onto.  This is how we keep going.

Filled in the bag were scripture after scripture of what God has given me in the past few weeks.  And now we redecorated our Christmas tree to cover it with His Word.

For all the times where our soul has grown weary, we can look at our tree and see verse after verse of hope and faith.

One scripture after another, everywhere we look, more faith.  More hope.  Comfort.  Mercy.

And suddenly, God transforms this fearful place of uncertainty to the most sacred Christmas of all.

If we already had a job, we would have missed out on this holy waiting as a family.  A holy expectancy that Jesus will surely come.  Urgent, desperate prayers that reach fulfillment.  A chance to tell our children that this faith of ours isn’t shallow or trite.  It is all we have to stand on.

And they will never forget it.

I was given the greatest gift in the world from Maddie this Christmas.  I will treasure it for the rest of my life.  All on her own initiative, held as a surprise for days before Christmas, she had this gift wrapped just for me.  She has captured our year in a homemade ornament.

It says “We can do hard!”  And she created a reference, “Richards Family 6:2” which stands for 6 people in our family and 2 dogs.  This is a phrase we began our year with and we remind each other once again as the year is coming to a close.

In all honesty, this year has been gut-wrenchingly difficult.  I have been worn thin and stretched beyond my ability to cope.  But God allows us to catch glimpses of joy that are so rich, I wouldn’t dare want to miss them.  God’s glory revealed in our midst.  

Today held great joy that could only be felt because of our intense wait.

I reminded our children again today of our lantern, looking for God.  For Christmas Day, it has been lit the entire day.  Therefore, keep watch.  Hearts expectant.  Romans 8 in the Message says, “We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy.”

The Birth of a Savior

A crisp winter night.  Shining stars filling the sky.  Shepherds watching their flocks — all is calm and the hush is sacred.  Enter the scene, angels, heavenly hosts, the sweet tenderness of a newborn babe.  Beauty.  Delight.  Joy.

I’m not saying it didn’t happen that way.  I certainly believe the scriptures that tell us so.  The trouble is that our scriptures are written on such crisp, clean pages.  Some readers glide through the story like they are skating swiftly over ice.  In my case I’d be clinging to the rail and inching along because I don’t skate.  But for those who do, you can imagine the ease that we can gloss over the detail, seemingly unaffected.  It is familiar and routine and sadly mundane.

If we sit with the story with some empathy, I can feel what it is like to be great with child and incredibly uncomfortable.  I remember tossing and turning in my soft bed and barely being able to sleep in the days before delivery because my body ached so badly.  And I wasn’t even taking a long journey on a donkey.  I have experienced a tap tap in Haiti, where the wagon type vehicle jostles across the bumpy terrain, and that might be a bit like what Mary encountered.  I have been desperate enough to need a bathroom in the fields of China on a long journey through the countryside, which could possibly identify with needing to find a room at the inn.  I have given birth, but not at the age of 16, without the help of a hospital staff and the Godsend of an epidural.

I think if I had to endure what Mary did, I would be completely overwhelmed.  I would have had at least one panic attack if not more, and I would have been scared to the core of me.  As if it wasn’t enough to have angels telling me God’s plan for me being greatly chosen, to experience a virgin pregnancy that everyone in my village wondered about my reputation, and then to give birth after a long arduous journey in a smelly stable with crisp crunchy hay.  Our carols and pictures make it sound magical, like a dream.  A mystical sight to behold.  Have we fallen asleep or grown numb to what happened that day?

I mean no disrespect whatsoever.  I’m only asking us to wake up.  This was real life, and an incredible calling to fulfill.  From all human perspective, it was utterly impossible.  And yet, make no mistake, this was exactly what God had called them to.  He made it possible.  It was truly sacred and holy, infinitely profound.  But it was also a painful, brand new birth mess.

We want nice packages wrapped in pretty paper.  A good sale and a finished to do list.  But what about when life hands us a mess?  In the past few days, my world just got quite a bit messier.  Not only did the job interviews end with doors slammed shut.  Todd was denied health insurance any longer.  He was hardly covered before because of his rehab experience, but now they shut him out and the price of medication went up.   There was no warning that he would suddenly be cut off.   Then today as he applied for his unemployment, he found that this is his last week to receive it.  If it isn’t renewed in some form, the well has run dry.  Merry Christmas.

Enter GOD.  Enter there has to be a way, because our God is the Way MAKER.  I have no  sweet answer to end this post.  But I am encouraged to know that the real manger story had to be difficult.  Seemingly impossible.  Yet God made it possible.  I’m going to bring that back to mind in the coming weeks as we approach Christmas.  It was a long, dusty road, an exhausting journey, and there was ample blood, sweat, and tears.  But in the end, a SAVIOR was born, which is Christ the Lord.  And a Savior is exactly what we need to bring us through this mess.  He is LORD over this household too.

Embracing Reality

I’m wondering if others see it too. Things are pretty backward in this thing called a faith journey.  We miss the whole point of Jesus coming.  We get tripped up in appearances just as much as the Pharisees did.  Lofty ideals are hard to let go because we wish beyond anything that they were true.  But in the process of working so hard that it could ever be so, we drift back into the distance of ever being known for who we really are.  We lose connection, relationship, and embrace.

From what I understand of Jesus and grace, all are welcome to draw near and find relationship.  Your life can be horribly difficult and messy, and Jesus can handle it.  You don’t have to hide; you don’t have to pretend.  In fact, you can let your guard down and be real.  He welcomes the authenticity like a fresh breath of new life.

Jesus welcomes the honesty because it is the start of surrender.  It is letting go of pretense, denial, and avoidance.  It is the acceptance that our reality is that we need help.  It reveals a heart that is humble and teachable, who doesn’t have to have it all together to be presentable.  This heart already knows it is desperate for God to save.

This morning I looked at the nativity by my kitchen sink and thought about the many nativities and symbols of Christmas spread throughout our home.

God spoke to me there.  He wants us to remember He is mighty to save.  He wants us to remember that He came….He comes…..and He is coming.  That is what advent is all about.  The holy waiting.  The anticipation of hope fulfilled.

Who I really am is a woman of great faith and tremendous difficulties.  I am married to an incredible man whom I deeply love, but who also battles sex addiction that has cost both him and our family two jobs.  God has provided immensely this year for ten weeks of rehab, ongoing therapy and marriage counseling, but those vessels of healing are also incredibly painful to walk.  I have plummeted the depths of my own raw unhealth, codependency, and woundedness. It has been a tremendous amount of work, depth, and commitment.  We continue to walk unemployment and uncertainty, but that isn’t even a full picture of what we carry.  And maybe what is hardest is to keep walking in faith and hope, when real life is so difficult and giving up isn’t an option.

I’ve spent too many years swallowing and drowning as I tried to carry the weight of these realities.  I haven’t done it apart from the grace of God, but I’ve also failed to cultivate a community of support until now.  I’ve had to do some hard looking at my faith and processing the platitudes that Christians toss around.  Many don’t know what to say and they hope that their prayers are quickly answered.  Most don’t interact, don’t wrestle, and don’t want to face real life or depth.

I am drawn to those who can tell the raw truth.  I am grateful for those who have endured great difficulty and came through stronger.  I’m finally learning to integrate my faith, that GOD IS MIGHTY TO SAVE……He is HERE….He is coming!!!  He is worth holding onto and believing in and hoping for!!  But I’m also more able to give him my full heart, my full offering, that I’m poor in spirit and painfully desperate.  I won’t make it without Him.  That is a reality worth embracing — heartfelt, humble, and true.  Hallelujah, He can handle it.