inspiring joy filled living


July 31, 2020

When I first began thinking about this post, my thoughts felt like a spinning kaleidoscope.  Each one taking me in a different direction and a new image emerging. My mind eventually settled upon a beautiful full-length mirror. Ornate in nature and seemingly secure on its hook. Within seconds, the hook gives way, and this stunning piece of art comes loose from the wall only to crash unexpectedly on the stone floor below.   Shards of glass scattering instantly and covering the room.  The pieces being so jagged that they would never fit back together the same way again.  In that moment right before the crash, right before the mirror is broken, there is a second when life is still normal and certain.  Like right before the lie is said or the truth is revealed.  Right before the phone rings, or the car crashes, or the doctor speaks.  Right before everything in life changes forever.  Rewinding back to that moment when life was certain and predictable. 

When tragedy struck other people, I wanted to throw up my hands and shout, “Not inside my bubble!”  The air in here is safe.  The winds never blow too hard and the sun never shines too brightly.  I feel immune to reality.  Until it hits.  And when it does, it is devastating.  The crisis rocks me out of my comfort zone and the element of surprise steals my breath away.  Maybe if I would have seen it coming, then I could have steadied my legs and braced for impact.  I could have prepared myself for the blow.  Unfortunately, that’s not how life works.  Sometimes we get an inkling.  The tiny hairs on the back of our neck sense something is out of a place.  Other times, we are completely blindsided and brought down quickly in one swoop.  Either way, we are left trying to gather up the brokenness and somehow piece it back together. Yet like the mirror, it never looks quite the same. 

But let’s go back to that moment right before the crisis for a second.  When life is still intact.  Our feet still feel settled on solid ground.  Before the kaleidoscope shifts or the mirror shatters.  I think that moment is crucial and defining because it is either a moment we look back on wistfully, wishing to somehow reach back in time and hold onto with both hands, or it’s a moment filled with confusion and the shame of, “How did I not see this train wreck coming?”  The wonderment of an entire world going on around us and we were completely ignorant. Watching a friend walk this journey right now of secrets being revealed and ultimately undoing a marriage is devastating.  My heart breaks knowing she has to gather up the pieces of her life and somehow patchwork them back together.

I’ve stood on both sides of the fence.  I’ve had my comfortable life collide full speed with a crisis.  And I’ve also stood in the gap between the beautiful life I pictured in my head and reality.  Even though looking back I can see how my intuition to show up better was knocking loudly, but I refused to answer.  Life can be incredibly distracting.  There are kids to raise and money to make.  Businesses to run and organizations to volunteer for.  Homes to clean and dinners to prep.  Addressing the hurts, stresses and curveballs take time and effort, and honestly, there are days I just want to crash into my bed and pretend I don’t live in the real world.

Lysa Turkuerst does a brilliant job in her book “It’s Not Supposed To Be This Way” at addressing the reality that we live in a sin-soaked world.  Our hearts long to be tenderly rocked to sleep at night filled with nothing but hope and reassurance that we will be ok.  I think the moment before any crisis reveals our fragility.  Our illusion of security.  Marriages breakdown, jobs disappear, kids get sick, pandemics happen and our sense of comfort is shredded.  The things we put our faith in fail and we are rocked at best, devastated, and destroyed at worse.  In his book, “The Seven Decisions,” Andy Andrews states very clearly that we are either in a crisis, about to enter a crisis, or coming out of a crisis.  Such is life.  Circumstances are out of our hands and out of our control.  

But we do have something at our disposal that will make a difference.  

A superpower, if you will.  And that is how we choose to see the boulder in our path.  A challenge to be tackled, or the very thing that takes us down.  There is a common thread that runs among successful people, a theme that is woven consistently into their stories.  And that is hardship.  The greatness of their life came in the gift of a challenge and the success we celebrate is oftentimes their response.  What I find fascinating is that this pattern is not relegated to the few. The elite, the five-star general, or a President, this commonality can be observed in ordinary people who became extraordinary because of the choices they made.  In fact, the five-star generals and Presidents are normal people whose choices made them extraordinary simply on a larger scale. But we all share the same superpower if you will, to take our circumstance and decide how we are going to view it.

In “The Seven Decisions,” Andrews puts faces to many of these stories and pulls from both historical figures like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Joshua Chamberlain, to present-day giants like Nelson Mandela, Norman Vincent Peale, and Amy Grant.  Although each story is incredibly different in content, the theme of their perspectives is strikingly similar. 

They tackled their boulder.  

The stories are much easier to tell when you know the ending.  We all love a win.  In our house, college football is non-negotiable and when the Trojans step on the field, all eyes are on the TV.  Yet, on those rare occasions when life happens (or more likely kids soccer season!) and we are unable to watch live, then we record it.  My hubby does his best to not check text alerts and have the surprise of the outcome ruined.  On occasion a well-meaning friend will text a “We Won!” and it is somehow inadvertently seen.  Being USC superfans, the game is still watched, but it is viewed with different eyes.  When the Trojans are tragically losing in the first half, there are no screams of frustration because we already know that they will miraculously come back in the fourth quarter and win the game.  It’s not fun to watch football knowing the ending, but life is a different matter.     

What would our lives look like if we lived that way? Knowing that our future was assured.  That we would win in the end.  Would we live differently? 

How do you feel anything but fear when your husband is lying lifeless in a hospital bed hooked up to every machine in the room?  Nurses are whirring around and life feels like a slow-motion movie rather than reality.  The day my hubs was admitted to the hospital 7 years ago, my entire 30 years on this planet flashed before my eyes.  Fear rushed in and tried to take up residence, but I was too focused.  Listening intently to each doctor that appeared in the room, taking copious notes, and cross-referencing with nurses became my focus.  My mind only saw him in recovery.  Somehow life outside of the hospital would resume.  I knew it, I felt it, even though I had no proof.  I’ll tell you, I didn’t get to that conclusion on my own.  I’m not that strong, in fact, my flesh is very weak and I scare easily.  I’m a panic kind of girl by nature.  A worst-case scenario-worrier that tends to lean towards a glass half empty sort of outlook.  Diving deep into my childhood, I can tell you that thread of thinking was born out of self-preservation and became a coping mechanism.  They can’t hurt me if my expectations are lower than dirt.  

And yet, even with my low expectations and hurts interwoven into my DNA, I still believed in hope.  Sitting in the hallway sipping on hours old cold coffee, I waited patiently while my husband was having a port put in so powerful medicine could go directly to his heart.  The seemingly ordinary moment in that plastic, squeaky hospital chair turned extraordinary when I felt God smile on me.  I felt peace.  My breath evened and my shoulders dropped a little.  I knew Justin was going to be ok.  I didn’t know what ok meant or what our life would look like, but I felt the kaleidoscope shift if you will.  I didn’t know that he would be admitted back to the ER with the worst pain of his life within weeks.  I didn’t know the months following were going to bring half a dozen agonizing surgeries or daily infusions at the hospital.  I didn’t know I would suffer migraines or have a brief affair with Zanax to take the edge off or lose 12 lbs in a week and not sleep for 3 days because of the antidepressants a well-meaning GP would prescribe to me.  I didn’t know my one year old would get one of the worst double ear infections of her life or that I would start having panic attacks again.  All I knew was somehow we would keep getting up because God powered us.  Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” became my battle cry.  

And He showed up. 

He showed up when strangers knocked on our door and delivered home-cooked dinners.  He showed up in the texts and calls from friends who covered us in prayers and encouragement.  He showed up in my in-laws who watched the girls so I could live in the hospital with Justin and countless other times throughout that grueling season. He showed up when Justin’s clients came to the hospital and gave him checks for their sessions.  He showed up and healed a body that medically speaking, could not be healed.  Like I said, I’m a glass half empty girl by nature, but being in the presence of a miracle makes one a believer.  Through tears of frustration, fear, and anxiety I had to choose every day to tackle the boulder.  I refused to be a realist and see the evidence in front of us, instead, we clung to faith no matter how painful.  I had to believe we would overcome, that we would somehow catch the ball in the fourth quarter and run away with the victory.

I choose to believe in miracles because being a witness has changed me.  And let me be clear, I didn’t want to be changed.  I definitely preferred to stay in my seemingly safe, ignorant bubble rather than be tested and stretched.  Like a small shift of a kaleidoscope can lead to new pictures and discoveries, so my heart has been forever changed.  Having walked through the fire and come out the other side where the cool grass soothes my feet, I can say now that I’m grateful for it.  I appreciate the dewdrops because I’ve stood in the flames.  The process was excruciating at times, but the result was a refinement that couldn’t have happened any other way.  

Many lessons of love, faith, and family were strengthened during that impossible season. My heart was moved to be a bit less selfish.  I began appreciating the ordinary moments in a brand new way because normal was all my heart longed for.  Right now feels eerily similar as we sit squarely in the midst of a worldwide pandemic.  The fears and uncertainty are nipping at my heels, trying desperately to sink their teeth right into my faith.  Some days I give in.  I watch the news, I buy 2 packages of toilet paper, I let the fear of my Justin’s gym being shuttered again paralyze me.  But I can’t stay in that place.  I know better.  Instead, I have to shut down the voices of fear.  Fear is a myth, an expectation for a worst-case scenario.  Faith is its counterpart.  The expectation that good will prevail.  I’ve seen good show up time and again even when life is dripping with uncertainty, so I must choose to cling to that now. Even though it isn’t my knee-jerk reaction, it is the better of the two options every time.      

7 years ago, my eyes were opened and every bit of kindness felt life-giving.  Like peeling back the layers of life down to the basics, I realized that the simplest things truly were and are the best.  The gift of meals delivered by hands filled with generosity made a huge impact on my heart.  These were moms and grandmas with busy lives and families of their own and yet they took the time and effort to cook for my family and drive it over to our home.  It absolutely changed me and I vowed that someday I would pay the gift forward. 

Since then I’d guess my girls and I have made and delivered a hundred meals or more.  I love talking to my kids about the importance of why we cook and share.  God calls us to love one another and this is our small way of being the hands of Jesus.  I remember the gift it was to us and I never took that kindness for granted.  We all need to know we are loved and seen and sometimes that looks like homemade ravioli lasagna and warm chocolate chip cookies.  I needed to know that we weren’t forgotten or alone in that season and now I take any opportunity I can to share that bit of hope with someone else.

I still struggle.  I want certainty.  I want to know when the crisis (or pandemic!) will end.  I so badly wish I could flip to the end credits of the story just to peek and see how it all unfolds.  But I also know I’d miss the refinement and the hidden lessons that come from adversity.  The hard-fought battle scars and victory muscles gained from tackling the boulder.  The illusion of comfort is just that, an illusion.  Instead, I’m choosing to step into faith that God has a bigger and better plan than I do.  He will carry us regardless of the crisis, pain, struggles, heartbreak, fear, hurt, rejection, exhaustion, or setbacks. He can use the most difficult parts of our lives and somehow make them beautiful.  So instead of attempting to build my life inside a bubble, I will plant both feet on the rock that God has placed beneath me, stare down the boulder set squarely before me and choose to see with my faith drenched heart instead of my eyes.  

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