Monday, May 1, 2017

Six Lessons from a Hard Year

May 2nd, 2016, the day that sparked a whole slew of difficulty and hardship. The fire uncovered deeper issues of pride, anxiety, and shame, and moved me through really painful conflict with dear friends. Now, a full year later, there is much to rejoice over. Our home has been restored to us. We have a new perspective on a number of different areas of life and ministry. And our love for Christ is higher.

There were a number of lessons I learned, each one I will expound upon in future blog posts. This is more an overview of those lessons.

Here are six lessons I learned from a difficult season:

1. God is faithful, in both small and big parts of life: When the fire first hit, my neighbors were outside to bring fire extinguishers. Hours later, the red cross showed up with disposable toiletries, a $500 pre-loaded visa gift card, and two mickey mouse stuffed animals for my boys. My parents, grandparents, and friends gave us money, gift cards, and so many other things to care for us. Our insurance company was absurdly generous with us, giving us a dining stipend, paid for the replacement value of the house, and kept us in the loop the entire way. A number of families let us stay with them for the duration of the time we were out of the house, never leaving us without a bed, shelter, or food.

When I suffered from the anxiety and depression caused both by the trauma and underlying things that had gone unaddressed in my heart, God provided wise, compassionate, Christ-loving men and women to walk alongside our family.

2. The church is amazing: I don't mean this in terms of our local church (though, Winfield Baptist is pretty great). I was astounded to see the church universal surround us with love, mercy, and generosity. When we moved back into our home, so many people came to help. It was great.

What was greater was how, as I invested more in the church, my soul continued to stir with praise and joy. There were many times I didn't want to get out of bed and lead my family to go to church. I saw it as drudgery. A chore. An extension of work. As I immersed myself more into the community, God was faithful to remind me that I was there not only to be a blessing, but to be blessed by my eternal family, as we all worshipped the eternal God.

3. The scriptures are both our greatest counselor and our greatest comforter: I can't tell you how often the scriptures have come alive to me in this season more than any other. I read about feeling shame, and I was encouraged how Jesus has cared for MY shame. I saw how the psalmists cried out for relief, and I found myself crying out to God for my relief soon after. I routinely found myself weeping or finding joy and encouragement in ways I had not enjoyed before or as frequently.

4. God, not ministry, must be my primary joy: One of my reasons for anxiety this past year was the feeling of having to do everything. It crushed me. But, as I placed my hope and joy in Christ, the weight of my own expectations, and the perceived expectations of others, faded and gave way to the compelling pleasure of my Heavenly Father.

5. We must have grace for those who fail to love us well: This is so hard. But it's necessary. While the church was so great, I was often hurt by friendly fire. At times I was admonished when I needed encouragement. At times I needed a listening ear rather than an instructive tongue. At times, I needed someone who mourned with me, rather than a casual joke to artificially lift my spirits. Those were hard moments as I tried to move past deep pain and trauma. But, there needs to be grace. And as I loved, forgave, and believed the best, those hard moments became teaching moments for me and others, as well as an opportunity to remember that God is growing all of us to become more and more like Him.

6. Hobbies are necessary: It's so hard to believe that hobbies are ok, because of all the commands in scripture to be deliberate and intentional. Yet, I believe the scriptures hold those commands in line with our need to rest from work, and part of that rest is enjoying the creation that God has made! I still haven't found all of my restful hobbies, but I know that most Saturdays, my soul was rejuvenated by faithfully choosing to use my smoker to make pulled pork and watch football. My soul was rejuvenated as I traveled, and my soul has been rejuvenated as I have made time to spend with family and friends.

God uses hard seasons to draw us closer to Himself. And in the midst of this season, He has not only taught me to love Him more, but also that joy is to be found, even in the midst of hardship and chaos.