Three Lessons From The Abyss

We hear people say that true faith stands regardless of circumstances. It’s easy to love God when life is going well, but what about sustained faith when life is hard? Really hard. What does faith look like when our child is out of control, a parent is dying, we receive a difficult medical diagnosis, or experience betrayal by someone we trust? How do we move forward?

When my daughter fell into active drug addiction, and lived on the streets of our community as a meth addict, I was furious with God. Everything I held dear, and had come to believe in, came into question. The daily uncertainty, not to mention gigantic hole in my heart, were almost more than I could bear.

It was a painful time, and this journey of suffering taught me more than I ever wanted to learn. I’d like to share three key discoveries that helped me cope: Image, woman on beach

1. Seeking God

Even though I was angry with God, I knew I was hopeless without him. James tells us to “draw nigh to God and he will draw nigh to you.” (James 4:8) My drawing nigh became angry, desperate wails in the garage. I all but dared God to account for himself! But I soon discovered he could take it… so I kept wailing.

In desperate times we often think, when is God gonna show up and handle this? We wait for this to happen. But maybe he’s already here and just waiting for us? I discovered that drawing nigh was about me showing up… wails and all.

It was in my garage, at the end of myself and at the point of true surrender, when it became clear to me that God was already there. He spoke into my spirit and said, “Give her to me.” I frankly had to think about that for a while. I found surrender to God’s will a terrifying prospect. Yet it was freeing at the same time. Turning my daughter over to the will of God meant the outcome would not be up to me. But the truth of the matter is, it never was up to me.

2. Choosing joy

Joy is something we often think of as happening to us. You know, a passive event, some blissful occurrence or special blessing. We also sometimes think of joy, or happiness, as something we can attain when “x” happens. I’ll be happy when my child gets her act together, when my spouse shows me more attention, when the front door gets painted or that leaky faucet is fixed… when my book sales soar. I’ll be happy when.

In the darkest time of my life, I discovered I could actually choose joy. Joy came when I took my focus off of problems, off trying to change my daughter, and I set my sights on blessings. It came when I realized my life was so much bigger than any one problem in it. There is a Power, and a purpose, at work in the world that is greater than I am. It’s bigger than my pain, and bigger than my own wants and needs.

I may experience loss, grief, I may even experience suffering. But I always have God, which means I always have hope. For that I can choose joy.

3. Taking care of myself

My pastor’s wife shared not long ago in our women’s Bible study, that she has a wooden plaque in her kitchen which says, “I am here to serve with joy.” I jokingly screeched, “Get rid of that thing!”

Like I said earlier, I’m all for joy. And we are indeed called to serve. But what is often left out of the equation is self-care.

Women, especially Christian women, are notorious for poor self-care. And that was certainly true for me. We are the chief “fixer,” organizer and problem solver, prayer warrior, food preparer, and angel-to-others. Yet we often lose ourselves in the process. Therapist’s offices are filled with well-intentioned women like us who are simply overwhelmed trying to hold up the world.

Most mothers are codependent to at least some extent, and I was no exception. I was motivated by the belief that if I could just try hard enough, I could control everything and everyone, force outcomes, and then life would be ship-shape. I sometimes became so enmeshed in other people’s problems, and in “doing,” that I nearly lost myself.

I learned that self-care begins with solid boundaries, asking for help when needed, and allowing others to be responsible for their own stuff. It means saying “yes” when I want to, and probably saying “no” more often. It means my life is as important as the ones I serve.

Please share how you seek God, choose joy, and care for yourself during tough times.

Smokin’ Hot

fried eggsSometimes my day feels like a cracked egg, running all over the pan in a yellowy glob of goo. Time slides fast. Out of control. Joy skitters away in the wake of unmet expectations.

From this broken shell of a place, the Holy Spirit whispers in the midst of waning joy, “Rejoice in me, the one who breathes fresh life in you.”

“Are you kidding?”

Of course, he isn’t. I know the chapter and verse:

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.” Philippians 4:4-5

His invitation rings warm. And in this hope-stirred moment, I unclench my fists, wondering, Is joy really a choice? By focusing on God’s truth, can I turn up the joy knob a notch? Watch this broken egg that’s staring back at me bubble up warm in its rawness?

I look up joy in Bible Gateway and find it singing and shouting everywhere, even in the broken places of defeat.

“Burst into songs of joy together, you ruins of Jerusalem, for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem.” Isaiah 52:9

I’m not used to singing in the midst of chaos. It hasn’t quite become habit yet. But I know neuroscience shows it positively affects our brain chemistry. Healthy thoughts register deep in our dendrites.

I also know that it’s easier to sing when I know who I am: chosen, redeemed, clothed in God’s righteousness. The same spirit that raised Christ from the dead dwells in me. In me. This little writer who longs to make a big difference.

God-dreams tick louder than time bombs. Do you feel their press to keep moving forward? We have much to say, but sometimes we stare blankly at that empty egg pan.

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”

Thank you, God, for the gift of words. Crack me open for you. Pour me out raw. I want to flow in your joy and hope and all things good.

When life turns up the heat, we wait with confidence in his presence: hopeful, grateful, and open to the fact we’ll soon feel that first bubble. And one bubble will lead to another and another. And before we know it, whoa–we’re cooking, Baby! Smokin’ hot for Jesus. All we need to do is stay open in God’s great pan. Let him stir up our gifts and see what happens.

“The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives.” Psalm 37:23

God-Given, Weird, Unexplainable–Joy!

For the last decade, I’ve prayed for God to give me a word to meditate and think on throughout the year. In 2010, the word was “peace,” and God used the word to convict and heal me of a tendency to worry.

In January 2011, I felt impressed to begin concentrating on the word “joy.” And like a pig-tailed toddler with a sweet tooth, I had pictures of God giving me presents. Maybe He would overwhelm me with material blessings (I entered the HGTV Dream Home giveaway several times, just in case). Perhaps He was going to provide a huge advance check for a writing project…or send me on a national television show to gain much-needed exposure for my blog.

As you can see, my thoughts leaned toward the selfish, temporary, and trivial. I’m so glad He knows what we REALLY need.

I won’t bore you with all the circumstances that hit our family in 2011. Suffice it to say, we were shaken and stretched in ways we never imagined. But in the midst of stressful moments–such as when my father underwent emergency triple bypass surgery–I felt peace, instead of fear. Not that I didn’t have moments of panic, mind you. But when worry showed up like a scorned lover, I took a deep breath and told him: “Get lost. I’ve got a new beau, and He’s not going anywhere.”

Mostly, it worked. 🙂

Just like the arteries near my dad’s ticker were bypassed by a skillful surgeon, my heart had been strengthened the previous year by God’s gentle scalpel of truth. I’m so thankful He tirelessly fought the stronghold of anxiety that had crept into my life.

Want to know something else? During 2011 and into 2012, God DID give me a present, wrapped in a great big, blood-red bow: weird, unexplainable  joy.

It is a spiritual gift, after all–just not one we talk about very much. My friend Megan says, “Joy’s not sexy, like wealth or prosperity. But it’s longer-lasting.”

I like that.

Joy means counting our blessings, both tiny and immense, while the world moans and heaves and believes all is lost.

Joy overcomes me when my eight-year-old cuddles with me and shows me his cursive practice. Joy warms my heart when my hubby texts me–because he misses me. And joy bubbles up when my teenager says, “I love you Mom!” out of the blue (it doesn’t happen often, believe me).

JOY is simply this: Jesus, at work in us, to do what we can’t do on our own.

There are many verses about joy, but one of my favorites is Psalm 28:7–“The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him.” 

My heart has leaped as I’ve spent time with Him. And as I’ve learned to take joy in His presence, He has given me a few answers to the desires of my heart, as well. Those “hugs” from my Father have satisfied my desire to know He’s listening, while whetting my appetite for more of Him–not just His blessings.

As Neh. 8:10 says, “The joy of the Lord is my strength.”

It has been, and it will continue to be. I am praying the same for you.

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