It’s been a bit of a hard season for me. Compounded by the fact that I’m a working mom with a very strong-willed toddler and a husband who works two jobs out of town, life took a turn about six weeks ago that I wasn’t predicting and certainly never envisioned.
I set out at the beginning of this trial asking God to show me how to walk through a hard season with courage, grace, and peace, to be focused heavenward, rather than inward.
Historically, I haven’t suffered well. My go-to response for most of life’s trials involves a pint of ice cream or an entire large extra-cheese pizza, a well-worn pair of elastic waistband pants, seasons 1-4 of Grey’s Anatomy on Netflix, the kind of ugly crying that leaves me too painfully congested to sleep it off, and an undercurrent of resentment that taints my interactions with those who are closest to me.
Could suffering actually look different?
God, being tender and merciful, promises that His grace is sufficient enough to bear the tough stuff of this life (2 Cor 12:9), that it’s even enough to do so with joy and gratitude. In the pain, God is drawing me close, shepherding me toward the peace that comes from embracing His bountiful grace (Heb 12:7), even in all the seemingly unremarkable places of daily life.
Changing of the Seasons
We know scientifically that the seasons change to provide for the earth’s natural processes and phenomena to play out. But what if the changing of the seasons is meant to point us heavenward as God’s reminder of the finiteness of this world and whatever personal “season” we find ourselves in? Experiencing the sweltering days of summer melt into the brisk, humidity-free days of fall not only provides for ample “good hair days,” but it’s just good for my soul. I’m more appreciative of fall and winter, knowing Florida’s version of those seasons is fleeting. Digging my sweaters and boots out storage and enjoying a cup of cocoa in front of my fireplace is such a physical, tangible way of God gently reminding me that He is making (not will make, but is making) all things new (Rev 21:5).
A “Full” Yard
I joke with my husband that I feel like our yard looks like something out of a scene of The Beverly Hillbillies. Because of our schedules, we don’t have the chance to keep a manicured, pristine yard. Thank goodness we live down a long, dirt driveway, free from the prying eyes of an HOA enforcer. When I drive up toward my house, always wishing that my home had the “curb appeal” that HGTV folks are always raving about, my eyes invariably land on the “eyesore” of our awkwardly-placed pontoon boat and “Clara,” our rusty vintage camper I bought as a project piece this past summer. Usually, I look at them through a pessimistic lens; it’s all just “junk” that clutters my yard. What if instead, I look at them as good and perfect gifts I’ve received from God (Jas 1:17)? See, these recreational vehicles are evidence of the larger gift of leisure, the opportunity to make memories with my people and take respite from a life that is sometimes just hard. God promises weekly rest from the weariness of life (Gen 2:2-3), but He’s also gifted my family with the means to be able to cruise the lake or camp in the mountains. Even though these adventures won’t ever be extravagant and will probably involve a mishap (or twenty), they will certainly provide rest for tired bodies, laughs to patch aching hearts, and an abundance of pictures and videos to treasure. In a culture that seems to worship at the altar of busyness, I’m thankful for a God who saw fit to balance the work of life with opportunities to drink deeply from the well of intentional rest. To that end, I’m thankful for this “junk” in my yard, for the ability it gives me to drink from that well with my family.
A Country Road
Take a drive on Maylen Avenue after school. Sunset is really the best time to do this. You’ll eventually come across this beautiful pasture spotted with sabal palms; beyond the pasture is a grove of stately oak trees, adorned with Spanish moss that sways in the soft breeze of a warm, Florida evening. I’ve driven that road many times so many times, but I had never really stopped to take in the charm of that view. Now, when I pass by, it’s all I think about. We live in a state that millions clamor to visit every year. Perhaps the best part is that we live in a section of the state unstained by the architectural cost of tourism. We live in Old Florida, a part of the state celebrated by writers like Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, who wrote The Yearling, and artists like the twenty-six African Americans of the famed “Florida Highwaymen,” who captured the untouched Florida landscape during the mid-20th century. Creation, particularly that of west central Florida, declares God’s glory and sovereignty over all things (Col 1:16), a reminder of a truth that we either willingly or unwillingly fail to acknowledge in the heaviness of our circumstances. The grace embedded in this truth brings rest for my weary soul, that God is unfolding my story in this way intentionally, for His glory, the same way He intentionally fashioned the loveliness surrounding me.
Authentic Christian Community
What better place to be pointed back to the graciousness of God than among the community of authentic Christian friends? My sweet friends have sensed my melancholy, and they’ve gently moved toward me and my mess to love me. They’ve called, texted, sent notes of encouragement, and listened to me cry. But perhaps the most beautiful is that they’ve sought me out to pray with and for me. I have struggled mightily to live relationally, but the friendship these women have offered me causes me to marvel at the majesty of a Creator who seeks to share just a glimpse of the beauty of the Trinitarian relationship with His creation in the form of companionship and community (Gen 2:18). If you struggle, much like me, to live in community with others, why not commit to joining a small group through your church? If you’re an SRCS student, join one of the small groups here on campus. Christian community is a wonderful place to find listening ears and compassionate hearts, but it’s most often the place where we also find voices that are equal parts encouragement and accountability that we, in our ugly seasons, so desperately need to hear. Praise God that He saw fit to make sure we don’t have to do life alone.
I don’t have answers for why I’ve had to endure this particular obstacle, but I have faith that God is at work in my suffering. God is awakening me to the lavish grace that He’s really always bestowed on me. These moments of grace are a reminder that He’s ever-present in my pain and capable of supplying the kind of beauty that brings peace, even in the deepest of life’s valleys.