“I’m so thankful I got that cancer diagnosis.”
“I could not be any happier that my car got totaled.”
“I have to clean out my savings account to make ends meet this month? What a blessing!”
If you heard any of those statements in real life, you’d probably slowly back away from the obviously insane person standing in front of you. Who in their right mind would express thanks for any of the horrible things “life” has thrown them?
2016 has been a very strange, tumultuous year, especially for me. This has definitely been the hardest year of my marriage, our hardest financial year, and the hardest year for my physical and mental health. Just about every month has introduced a new round of “Really?!” into my family’s life, and to be quite honest, I’m done.
I’ve been stuck in a vicious cycle that goes something like this: new hardship is introduced, I spend time pleading with God to show me why and how I get out of it, I resolve to put my head down and plow through, wait a small eternity, and at the strangest (but perfect in His plan) moment everything is resolved, continue on with my life.
Sounds perfectly normal. I’d say that most people would have that response to a dark time in their life. But in my life, I’ve come to realize that the last step in that process is what is laying the groundwork for the cycle to restart at the next trial.
Instead of being relieved, we should be giving thanks.
When I lost my first “real world” job, it literally felt like the ground had disintegrated beneath my feet and I was free falling. My husband and I were still in the early stages of our marriage. We had just started to really get a handle on our finances and prepare for the future. We had even been entertaining the idea of having children. And then I get called into my boss’s office. Told that a decline in client work meant a company downsizing. All my plans and hopes and dreams evaporated in a second. I spent at least the next two weeks randomly crying, mourning the loss of the “perfect” life we’d had.
This year, after dealing with health issues for close to 15 years, I finally “adulted up” and went to a doctor. An exam and a colonoscopy later, I was told that I had a colon polyp too large to remove through the colonoscopy (which is how most are taken care of) and that the doctor was waiting on a biopsy to determine what to do next. I’m 29. Every doctor and nurse I saw from that point on kept repeating to me how incredibly rare and strange it was that I had a polyp and that it was that large. Those 7-10 days I waited for my biopsy results was one of the scariest times in my entire life. My mind raced with “what ifs.” What if it’s cancer? What if I die and leave Dean before he turns one? What will DJ do without a wife? Eventually, we found out that the polyp was pre-cancerous and would have to be removed with surgery, along with that portion of my colon. A better outcome than cancer, but still not an ideal situation.
Recently, our family needed to switch our cars around and do some upsizing. With a growing baby comes a growing amount of gear and stuff, and our MINI Cooper and VW Jetta weren’t really up to the task anymore. We spent at least a month trying to sell the cars and finally the MINI sold, to a woman who seemed like the perfect fit. As soon as we sold the car, we put the money from that into paying off the Jetta, which in turn opened up our budget to buy me a “mom car.” That was Saturday. On Monday morning, my husband calls me and asks me to contact our bank to make sure the check from the sale of the MINI had cleared. A half hour later, we learned that the money from the sale of the MINI was not coming because the woman who had purchased it had been a victim of identity theft on Sunday and had literally lost everything. Not a penny to her name. Cue the crushing fear. We had to completely drain our savings accounts to ensure that the payoff for the Jetta and the down payment on my new car would clear.
There are other situations I could point to, but these stand out to me as the most profound wasted opportunities. Did I make it to the other side on all of those situations? Yes. Did I start each of those situations off with intense sessions of grief and doubting? Absolutely. So why was I not learning? What was I missing?
Whenever I made it through a trial, I remember prayerfully thanking God for getting us through. And then I continued on with my life, happy that everything was back to normal. Nothing wrong with that, right?
Rather than thanking God for “getting me through,” I’ve learned that perhaps the lesson He’s been trying to drill into my head for years is not thankfulness that I’m through, but thankfulness that I was brought along on the journey, that I was pulled through the mud of life’s dark times. Was losing my job devastating? Of course, but had I not been laid off, I would have never learned what I truly wanted my career path to look like and been brave enough to take steps toward making it happen. Is getting a less-than-ideal medical diagnosis devastating? Yes, but I am now acutely aware of what my body needs to function properly and have learned there is nothing more reassuring and strengthening in this world than family, friends, and prayer. (Also, doctors are angels in white lab coats.) Is having the financial rug ripped from beneath your feet devastating? A million times, yes, but we sold the MINI again within a few days of getting it back from the first woman we sold it to, and the man who bought it was a French exchange student at a Christian college here in Georgia. My sister was here when we sold the car, and I was talking with her about how strange the whole car selling situation had been, and she said, “Well, it’s obvious that God wanted this guy to have your MINI. He’s going to do something with that car.” Our temporary hardship could very well have been the small price to pay to have a part in God’s amazing plan for the life of this man.
So the next time God deems me worthy to go through a dark time, I will immediately fall to my knees and thank Him for the honor and opportunity to learn from Him. Will I be scared? Will I cry a few tears of grief and anger? I’m human, so yes, probably. But I’m also committing to viewing life’s hardships as God calling class into session and giving me the chance to determine the beauty behind the bad times.
“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