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.

Growing in Grace

The words don’t fall easily off my fingertips.  I am bewildered.  My heart is heavy in pain.

Oh how a battle stirs my soul….. I’m being tossed about with the weight, the pressure and anxiety, and continually trying to hone it back into serenity, peace, firm footing, getting grounded, gathering hope …..  candle lit, music in my headphones, writing some quotes in my serenity journal — and I can still hear life’s noise in the background, ongoing disruptions.

My heart is churning about so many things it is hard to write.  But I’m here.  Willing.

God is teaching me to wait. To wait on Him. To wait for His timing. To trust what He is teaching us, and what He is leading us to, and preparing us for.

And yet, my heart bleeds.  It cries out for the redemption that is promised.  For rescue.

Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them. He has set them free. He has raised up a mighty savior for us — he has established for us a saving power in the house of his servant David just as he promised! Luke 1:68-70

My heart cries out.  Enough, Lord!  Mercy!  I’m ready for you to redeem this mess.

But I’m sitting with it.  I’m acknowledging my heartfelt needs.  My confusion and wrestling and churning.  I’m giving it to him.  I’m pouring out my soul with safe hearts that can hear me.

This is real life.  Real faith.  Triumph in adversity.

For as much as life has stormed hard, a hurricane of the soul, here we are.  Living, growing, being.  In the midst of it.

“growing in grace through the very adversity that was meant to harm you.”

No matter what harm festers and storms around me, God brings it for good.  Scripture teaches us all things….  All things, all circumstances, all fears and frustrations, can be worked together for good.  God can take it all and use it all.

I am not in denial.  I’m not avoiding or pretending.  I’m not medicating the pain with addiction.

Sometimes life feels raw, and anxiety doesn’t just disappear because I trust God or recite scripture.  I can’t belittle my experience or make it hurt less. But I can know God is here.  With me.

God comes.  He enters in.

He is not put off by the mess.  He touches pain.

 

Gather Hope

How do we live into hope?  How do we unpack such a thing in our hearts?

It is something we are reaching for that hasn’t come yet.  It is looking, watching, and waiting.

It is not knowing when, or how.  Keeping our hearts expectant, alive, and fresh with wonder.  Even when some days it hurts to lift our head.

It is living with more ambiguity than answers.  Accepting uncomfortable, because that’s the reality of where we are.  Planting our faith in this moment, to see God here.

It is courage to know this story hasn’t been fully written.  There is more to come.  I have yet to see, but it is coming.

How do we hold onto this longing in our hearts — this thing that keeps us walking forward — when our storm hasn’t passed and our spirit wears thin?  Because for anyone willing to admit it, life can be really, really hard.  And if you’re walking that, it’s painful.

I’ve lived enough trauma, walked enough healing, to have some idea of how to go through.  There are no simple formulas, but I’m grateful for this journey: while it has been seasoned with pain, it has also grown wisdom.

I want to offer one glimmer of inspiration that God has given me over many seasons and years of pain.  Gather hope.

You actually have to gather it.  Just like the Israelites had to leave their tent each morning to pick up the manna God provided for that day.  Gather hope.  Surround yourself with encouragement and truth.

I gather quotes, scriptures, songs, and reread them over and over until they sink down deep into my soul.  I gather clippings from emails, books I’m reading, facebook and twitter.  I make playlists with songs that encourage me for that season.  I light candles, turn on lamps, and constantly bring myself back to hope.

Things will resolve and unfold over time.  But as we wrestled with how hard it is to wait in recent posts, we have to cultivate 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.

It’s a one step at a time kind of progress.  Perhaps slow at times, but I’m realizing slow isn’t a bad thing.  It is the time you give to something of quality.  Something that matters.  Something deep. And how you get there is just one moment, or one day, at a time…  and then the next.

What is hope if you already have the answer and the clarity?  Where is the wrestling and growth in that?  We hurt, we stretch, we get uncomfortable….but our lives are transformed there.

We will come through different than when we began.  Stronger.  Healthier.  Deeper.  More whole.  If we invest well.

So as we wait, as our hearts long for something yet unseen, let’s hold onto the gifts God gives us along the way. Gather them up.  It will sustain us to walk another day.

(If you want to follow me on twitter or facebook, I attempt to post words that bring life, faith, and hope.  I’d be honored for you to join me in that journey.)

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.”