Spring is poking through the ground. Today I reflect. It’s been two years.
Life changed forever for our family two years ago today. One never knows when that moment will come…yet it comes for us all. It’s that dreaded moment when you have a choice to completely fall apart or to forge ahead into the darkness and hold on in faith.
It started as a lovely spring Saturday in East Texas. We had no where to be that morning and worked in the backyard while our kids played. I spoke to my father-in-law who was 10 months post heart surgery, and he seemed to be doing well. He and my mother-in-law were burning the pasture to improve the grass for the cattle as they had done each spring for many years. After lunch while the twins napped, the neighbor frantically knocked on the door. The worker had fallen out of a huge pine tree…he had hit his head…the ambulance was called…Justin ran across the street and rendered care…and returned home, hands covered in blood. The man died. Justin showered and left to perform a wedding. Live. Die. Marry. Bury. The cycle of life that no one can predict. Details of that life-changing day that have faded in these two years.
It was 6:00 pm. Justin had returned from the wedding and the hospital where he visited with the young man’s widow. I left him at home with the kids and pizzas so that I could help paint a tree on the nursery wall at church. When he showed up I knew from his voice…another crisis. Who was it this time? Who was injured? Who had died? He was, after all, at his best in the midst of crisis. It’s really one of his finest strengths…comforting others in the midst of tragedy, providing direction and wisdom, handling ugly details, speaking the truth, remaining calm, giving hope, being 100% logical. Many, many times I had stepped in behind the scenes to fill in while he left to meet those in their greatest time of need…just as he had done earlier in the day. I knew this was another one of those times.
Except this time he said these words:
My mother is dead. Not my dad. My mom. I have to leave.
Here it was…the dreaded but necessary trial of life to test my faith. You never know when it’s going to come. Just as James had said. This wasn’t the moment to figure out what I believed…it was time to live it out in faith and find hope in those words from the Bible (among others):
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4
Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. James 1:12
The crisis of losing Justin’s mother so tragically in the pasture fire was just the first of many. The following two months were full of many stays in the hospital for my father-in-law. He died 60 days after his wife. We drove the eight hour trip to Oklahoma countless times. Justin’s brother’s family had to fly home from China numerous times. After his death we were faced with the reality of shutting down a farming operation with significant debt. All while maintaining jobs and families and the normal things of life.
Dark, dark days.
Those trials and tribulations of life had come. The plan I had for my life was not working out. At all.
Two years ago I lived in Texas…where it was warm and beautiful and calm. I now live in Oklahoma…where it is cold and dead and windy (at least right now…sounds so drastic, I know).
Two years ago our family was surrounded by people who cared about us and we were “known” by many. Today we don’t know a lot of people around us and aren’t “known” by everyone in the community…anyone, really.
Two years ago our kids were in a great little school district. Today they are in a large 5A school.
Two years ago I had a growing photography business and 100’s of blog readers. Today I don’t have any clients and maybe have 20 readers.
Two years ago our kids had four grandparents. Today they have two.
Of course, those are the external things…jobs, community, schools. And truly, there are positives about all of those changes…things for which I am grateful.
But the real story lies within…the unseen parts of our hearts, minds and relationships. We have experienced hopelessness, anger, incredible grief, conflict, very little joy, hatred, bitterness, loneliness, hurt, thoughts of escape (death or divorce), exhaustion, failure and brokenness.
Yet we have survived. Life has a funny way of not stopping…I suppose that’s where the steadfastness comes in.
Two years ago I was not broken and liked to believe I was in control…and quite frankly, self-sufficient. My life is changing. Here are just a few of the things I’ve learned in these two years of trials and faith-testing:
Know what you believe before the trials come.
Having a solid Biblical knowledge before a trial comes is essential to being steadfast in the midst of the trial. Many, many days when I felt as though God had abandoned me, betrayed me and could care less about me I had to choose to think about the truth that I knew about Him from the Bible. He is good. He is in control. He does care. He does bring blessing out of trials.
Keep track of the blessings.
It is essential to keep track of…WRITE DOWN…the good things that happen in the midst of a trial. These things/events were proof to me that God still cares about me/us…and gave me hope. Ann Voskamp‘s book One Thousand Gifts has been an incredible gift this year.
Choose laughter and fun.
Sometimes “counting it all joy” means taking a break from the pain and hard work of being steadfast in your faith. It’s too easy to remain in the depression and pain, so we’ve had to consciously choose laughter and fun. Joy shows up when we do. Life goes on after all, and kids don’t stop growing up.
I am not in control.
Obviously. And yet it is living through such huge loss, change, grief and pain that brokenness comes and with it the realization that I need Jesus to save me from me. I’m still working my way through this one, but Emily Freeman‘s book, Grace for the Good Girl has been amazing for me.
God’s grace is enough.
Truly. It is present in death and in life. HE is enough.
Choose truth over feelings.
The battle for my mind and heart…the battle for healing…is so often found in my feelings/emotions versus my mind/will/thinking. It’s a CHOICE.
As I entered the brokenness…and felt the PAIN and loss…I (eventually) chose to let go of self-sufficiency and perceived control and rest in Him.
As I felt HOPELESSNESS, particularly in the hard times in marriage…I chose to hold on to truth and logic (i.e., that now is NOT the time to make drastic…and sinful…decisions).
As I felt ABANDONED by God…I chose to remember truth…how He had cared for me in the past and what the Bible said about Him.
As I felt INSIGNIFICANT and like a “nobody” in a new town…I chose to rest in the truth of where my true significance was found (not in my husband’s job).
As I felt like a FAILURE as a parent and as a wife, I chose to remember I had the power of Christ dwelling within me and that He loves them all more than I do anyway.
As I felt ANGRY at God for the loss of my in-laws, I chose to trust that somehow this was part of His plan to bring joy, blessing and make us more like Him (even when I can’t see it yet).
As I felt SADNESS about leaving Texas and that Justin was in a different line of work, I chose to believe that God has a plan for His church and our lives and really can do it all without us anyway.
As I felt OVERWHELMED with stepping out and making new friends (as an introvert), I chose to pray that I would be less self-absorbed and ask more questions about them.
As I felt complete FRUSTRATION about leaving a thriving photography business and starting over, I chose to pick up my camera anyway and do what I love…and trust that God would eventually provide paying clients again (still waiting on this one).
As I felt UNCERTAIN about all of our life change (new house, community, school, church, town, etc.), I chose to trust that God had a purpose for us right here in Edmond, Oklahoma, and trust His timing in showing that to us.
As I felt NUMB from so many changes in life to process and from the journey to brokenness…I chose to carry on in my responsibilities with joy and a smile (at least I tried).
As I felt DISCONTENT and started wishing we were still in Texas, I chose gratefulness and to be fully present right here.
I don’t know why my in-laws had to die so young, and won’t ever know how Justin’s mom died that day two years ago. I cannot yet “count it for joy” and am definitely not “perfect and complete.” I am not yet thankful for the trial. It’s hard to live in Oklahoma and not think about what it would be like if they were still alive. We miss them. I don’t think complete healing has yet come from the process of living through the trial.
I am still making daily choices to think and trust in God and His Word. It is getting easier and I can definitely see God’s work in our family’s journey. I am past the anger and hopelessness that seemed to be constant in the darkest days. Truly, our family is doing well, our marriage is thriving, the kids like their school, we are all making friends, we live closer to our family, and Justin is enjoying a different career path right now.
I am completely confident that eventually the Lord will bring me/us to a place where we can say, “Yes, that was painful, but good came out of it.” I’m starting to see the light, but am not quite there yet. And that’s okay. I can look back over the last two years and truly see how God has provided for us, cared for our needs, and loved us in tangible ways. I’m content to continue this journey…
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. John 12:24
This verse sums up our last two years…and I look forward to see the fruit that is to come. Only because of His grace.