Thursday, November 12, 2015

Noticing Goodness: Choosing Joy during Pain and Loss

First of all, Melanie, Thank you so much! Thank you for sharing your faith, your hurts, your struggles and how God has used them to shape you into the woman you are today!  Your courage paved the way for the rest of us to share our brokenness, our struggles, and to encourage one another and pray! 

Noticing goodness and choosing joy is challenging because it is so easy to allow ourselves to become consumed by our struggles. Until a couple years ago, whenever hard times hit, I’d completely fall apart, focusing on the negative, angry with God and failing to see any good.  I’d worry, and stress and try to “fix” everything…control has always been a struggle for me, but thank you JESUS that He is a patience and faithful God! 

So, choosing joy among struggles.  Seems simple right? I think, “I can do this. I got this!”  Then 3 seconds later, a child starts screaming, the other two are beating each other into the ground over a Lego the size of my patience, dinner is no where near started (frozen nuggets sound good), and the husband just called saying he’s going to be late tonight.  Awesome.  Forget joy and happy feelings…this mama is done! (Exits stage right) 

Oh, wait.  I can’t leave.  Getting mad and yelling doesn’t seem to help or calm anyone down.  Good times.

Lord, have mercy on me and my sweet babes who’s bedtime just moved to 6:30pm.  Deep breath…3…2…1…

In my life, I’ve never been lacking in struggles or broken moments.  There is always something, and if you feel like your in a safe place, brace yourself.  There have been those world-shattering, fall to my knees struggles like being arrested when I was 18 years old, loosing our first baby just a couple months into our marriage, and having my 2 year old son break his Femur the week of my C-section with my 2nd son.  Then there are those less devastating but still very hard daily struggles.  Balancing my role as wife and mother, not yelling ugly words at the person who just cut me off, having patience with my children when I really just want to lock them in a closet…not to mention, jealousy, selfishness, resentment and bitterness just to name a few.

How can we move from these moments where joy seems obsolete? Thankfulness and being happy aren't usually the first things that pop into my head.  It’s usually “Why God?! Why Me?! Why Now?!” But hindsight is 20/20 right?  As I sit here, trying to figure out how to put my struggles and my heart into words, I think back on all of these difficult, painful times and our gracious God reveals to me how these moments, these struggles are still opportunities to be thankful….to be joyful!  My arrest at 18 years old caused me throw myself at the feet of my Jesus and my faith in Christ is stronger and my relationship with Him, so much more genuine.  When Liam broke his Femur the same week Cohen was born, I had to learn that I’m not SuperWoman, I can’t do it alone and had to rely completely on God and the love of others! Through the good and the bad, my children help draw me closer to God, where I am continuously sanctified. (Isaiah 41:10 “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”)  

So, when we are consumed by these struggles that seem to grip us by the throat, bringing tears to our eyes and clouding our vision, how are we supposed to notice the good? How do we notice God? James 4:8 says “Come near to God and He will come near to you.”  Seems like a good place to start.  Somedays this looks like a glorious hour alone with a hot cup of coffee (only microwaved once) and my Bible open in my lap.  There is time to think, to pray and beseech God.  Other days, just exhaling the name of Jesus is all I can manage.  But as we draw near, He will embrace us, holding tight. 
When we draw near to God, we also have to choose joy! Not only choose, but learn. You don’t just choose joy one day and remain joyful for the rest of your days! If only it set in that quick…wouldn’t that be wonderful!  Now choosing joy doesn’t mean you slap on a false facade either and say “I’m fine. He’s fine. We are just fine.” Don’t ever discredit, conceal or compare your struggles.  True healing and happiness doesn’t come from hiding.  By sharing our stories, like our sweet Melanie did, it allows God to shine through and be glorified…plus there is an added bonus of not having to deal with life's hardships alone!  Mamas, can I get an AMEN?! 

In her book One Thousand Gifts, Ann Voskamp writes about her journey on living out joy in every situation we come across.  She says we have “to learn how to be grateful and happy, whether hands are full or hands are empty…to allow the losses (struggles) to be open places that we can look through the mess of this place and see God.”  
Paul said it first in Philippians…

“I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little.”  Philippians 4:11-12

I am so thankful that we don’t have to have it figured out the first time, and that God allows us time to learn and to grow.  That through each struggle, time of plenty and time of loss, God does not abandon us, but instead He guides and comforts us by giving our pain a purpose even though we may not understand in that moment.  Nothing is a surprise to God. 

The difference between my past trials and the ones that are to come, is that God has better equipped me to handle them.  I now understand that I’m not alone, that God is looking out for my best interest and that depending on how I handle these coming moments, they are either going to shape or scar me….Lord, please let it be shape. 

I am challenging you (and I) that when a trial comes, and it will, that we will draw near to God, fix our eyes on Him, have faith, and choose joy. That when we fall, and we will, remember that we fall into the arms of a loving God who has chosen us, who will hold us tight as we get back up on our knees with thankfulness and renewed strength to better face the next tough moment.  

“Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.” Philippians 4:6-7 (MSG)

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