This past year has been one of the hardest of my life. I don’t make a statement like that tritely. I am not trying to be a “woe is me” person. I, we, have had tough years before-but this year has been a real doozie. I really can’t get into all the details because I want to protect my loved ones’ and my own privacy. But to summarize vaguely: in the past year Peter’s company has consistently jerked him around with paying him his rightful commissions on time (80% of our paycheck), a very close member of our family was diagnosed with terminal cancer; I spent months sick with scary and debilitating neurological symptoms before finding out I have a gluten allergy; another very close member of our family is struggling with severe and debilitating memory loss issues and is awaiting a diagnosis with the hopes of getting treatment and getting their life back; I was recently diagnosed with another chronic illness, and the list goes on. This has been the most challenging year Peter and I have ever faced physically, emotionally and financially. And here I am on the anniversary of when all this “stuff” began and most of these “situations” have not changed…yet I find that I myself have been changed.
Throughout a lot of this year I made lists in my head of all the things that were going wrong…mounting up against us. It was as if I was making a description of the enemy Peter and I had to fight. It is hard when the world is spinning around you and one thing after another is going “wrong” not to think this way. At least it is for me. I tend to be a pessimist, something I am working on. So, it is all too easy for me to make mental lists of all that is going wrong and get stuck wallowing in it all, bemoaning the fact that I can’t escape it. It is all to easy of me to forget that the struggles of this world are not my enemy and that my ‘struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).
So, as I find myself at the end of a rid-donk-ulously hard year, I want to make another list:one that might be a little more challenging for me, but one that really should come more easily than any list of “wrong”. Every day for the month of November I want to notice the good, the beauty, the things going “right” (even if they are disguised as wrong). And I want to give thanks. I made “joy” my word of the year this year, and God has been so faithful to help me find joy in the midst of the craziness, the pain, the challenge and the weariness this past year has brought.
So for my first thing that I am thankful for I am going to be a little deep and say that I am thankful for the challenges of this last year. I am not going to be so glib as to say that I would not get rid of all the crap certain people in my family have had to endure in the last year. Because the truth is, if I could, I would. But I can’t. So instead of wallowing, instead of shaking my fist at God, or shaking my head in doubt, I will choose to be thankful. I am thankful for the pain and the challenge. It has sucked. I have spent many nights crying into Peter’s shoulder, snot flying (its not pretty people) and many times pleading with God in my weariness. But I can say that through it all and through what else is coming, since I am speaking in many ways from in the middle of it, that I can be thankful. I have learned so much this past year that I would not have learned without the struggles.
For starters I have seen first hand, in very tangible ways, the faithfulness of God. I have had the blessing of being able to see Him meet our needs in big and small ways, which I never would have been able to experience if everything was rosy and Peter was paid on time. It is humbling and it is beautiful to really spend some weeks and months literally praying for your daily bread, and seeing God be faithful to His promises. I am actually counting myself pretty blessed to have been able to experience the provision of God in such seemingly simple ways. I feel like I know firsthand a piece of God that other people might not, so I consider that pretty awesome that He chose us to struggle financially so he could reveal Himself to us. (Now just a small disclaimer God: all this being said, I am not so sure I want to be praying for my daily bread for this next year. So, can you give a nice talking to to whom it may concern at Time Warner Cable and make sure that Peter’s pay checks find their way into our bank account on time…Thanks!)
I have wrestled with issues that I would not have even thought about if life was “easy” (is it ever really easy?). Growing up we always prayed thanking God for the old stand bys…you know: food, shelter, our good health. But what happens when over the course of a few months you and some of the people you love most dearly suddenly can not be thankful for “good health”? God has taught me this year to not put my stake in things, even things that are not material things, even things that seem to be pretty stable-like health, or even in people-even if they seem the most steadfast. This is something I knew in my head to be true. I mean c’mon, I am a good Christian girl. I know that I need to put my faith in Jesus-not my health, or my comfort and stability or my family. But when it comes down to it day to day I found myself putting way to much of my stake in things that are temporal. I realized that with my faith more on God and God alone I would not be so rocked when I found out someone I loved was really, really sick. I would not be so frustrated by my own illness and struggle if I really realized deep inside me that I was made to be eternal and my earthly body is just a vessel. So as I wrestled with “what do you do when you can’t say ‘I am thankful for my health’, I learned that I have “better” things to be thankful for. Now don’t get me wrong, I am still grateful for the health of all the healthy people in my life and am not saying that our health is not important or something to be thankful for. I am just saying that when that stable, big, old stand by of a thing to be thankful for is suddenly not something to be thankful for, it really makes you think. And in my case it caused me to think a lot more about the eternal. It caused me to try to be more purposeful in my parenting-with my children’s hearts and eternities at the forefront of my mind. It caused me to think of things more from a spiritual angle, rather than just the physical angle. And instead of being thankful for health I am thankful for the opportunity to get to know even better the one who holds my life, my health, my world in the palm of His hand.
So, in moments of great struggle and weariness, in moments of great pain, in moments of clarity and moments of confusion, in moments of triumph, in moments of seeming failure, in all these moments I am choosing joy. I am choosing to be thankful. This is something I need to cultivate because for me it is not always natural. This month I am going to find something every day to write about with a heart of joy and thankfulness to God. I can’t promise I will blog every day;there may be some catch up days where I lump a few days into one,. Hopefully by the end of the month, as we enter the holiday season, this will be more natural for me and I won’t have to always deliberately look for things to praise God for. Hopefully my word of the year will really come alive inside of me as I am filled to overflowing with more and more joy.
So for Day one, a long, scattered post basically to say: I am thankful for the struggles.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.
Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business.
Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.
When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first fruits of all he created.” James 1:2-18