Every Thanksgiving our family take turns around the dinner table giving thanks to God for various blessings in our life. With each testimony we each place an item in our “thankfulness bowl.” Common recurring themes include family (spouses, children, grandchildren, parents), God’s provision (jobs, finances, homes, weddings), friends and church families, and healing from difficult health situations, etc.
This year as I contemplate God’s faithfulness to me and my family, I can’t help but think of one very special blessing. We have a new grand baby on the way; she is a miracle baby for whom we have beseeched the Lord for many years. Praise the Lord! The sibling before her was taken from her mother’s womb before it had a chance to see the light of day. This new life is beauty from ashes.
But in the same thought, I remember the grand baby we lost. Was the Lord not faithful in this situation? Was He not good that week? Yet, we are told to give thanks for all things. “Lord, it’s difficult to be thankful for this one.” We grieve another life not lived here on earth.
Yet, in my heart, I know that even this is fertile ground for God’s blessings. I don’t know exactly how and why yet; I don’t see what God has prepared for these cherished ones. But I do know that God is near to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. So, while we are sad, I am confident He will redeem this heartbreak one day just like I have seen Him do so many other times.
This got me thinking of all the difficult life scenarios the Lord has personally taken us through over our short life on this earth. All the dreams shattered. Relationships that we assumed we’d enjoy forever that crumbled. All the friends we once counted on and cherished somehow slipped away into oblivion. All the ministries we poured our heart and souls into for the glory of the Lord that either fizzled or were ripped away from us like a well worn bandaid over a wound, then abandoned by ministry peers that we counted on in the naivety of our youth.
And personally, living with devastating depression was certainly not in my plans. How could I fathom the loss that I’d experience at its hands?
As a wife, my relationship with my husband didn’t grow into a beautiful flower during that difficult period; it was tested and tried and only by God’s grace survived. Only after God healed me could we see the depth and strength that was forged during those days we chose to fight for our marriage and a friendship that endured and thrived through dark days, weeks, and years.
As every young mom, I dreamed of the life I would have with my kids. Like so many before me, I dreamed of the tender mother/daughter moments or mother/son moments or laughter around the room type of sentimentality. While those did and do exist, they didn’t happen often during the 12 years I was not well. So often I was either absent, or sobbing, or angered, or otherwise sobering the mood for the whole family. The one life I was given to be a mom and the life I longed for was ripped away from me by a mental illness.
And the ministries… oh, how we poured ourselves into our ministries. We were committed, over-committed and completely burned ourselves out for the Master. Yet, while souls came to know a Savior and others were discipled in their faith, and we experienced a few successes, the memories of some of our prior ministries are painful and hurtful even to this day. People, and maybe more, Christians, can be so hurtful in the name of Christ.
While I’ve listed only a few examples, there are so many more.
Simply put, this is not the life we pictured for our ourselves.
Just last week, we were approached in a church by a man who asked us how we were doing? After small talk, he mentioned in passing how he knows how difficult a life we have experienced. As he was speaking, I was embarrassed and started scanning my brain asking myself, “which experience is he talking about? It could be any number of them.” Truthfully, I wanted to defend myself against whatever he might have heard but didn’t know which rabbit trail he might be referring to.
Thankfully, the Lord quieted my heart and I was able to tell him that while that has definitely been true, we are doing fine now and I was able to testify to him that the Lord has been very gracious and merciful to us.
You see, while my life (our life) has not turned out like we dreamed, what many may not know is that when my husband and I look back on each and every loss, we see God’s sovereign hand in it. We see His grace and mercy bestowed on us. In fact, now we are even grateful to Him for those trials and difficulties.
While our marriage was tested and tried over the course of my depression, my husband learned to love me like Christ loved the church, not because of my Proverbs 31 saintly qualities, but in my unChrist-likeness.
When I was first married, though I’m ashamed to admit it, there was a hierarchy for my affection: Bill first, God second. I wouldn’t have admitted it then, but in my heart I knew.
Over the course of my depression, and over the course of many of life’s disappointments, I found that Bill just couldn’t live up to that pedestal I put him on. I needed someone who would always love me and always accept me with gentleness, kindness and compassion. I finally found that in my only hope, the person of Jesus. Had our life been lined with roses, though a believer, I may not have found my one true love in Jesus. Praise God for the disappointments of life!
When I had my children, I wanted to be the best mom! Not just a good mom but the best. I wanted them to adore me. I wanted to be everything they could admire. I wanted them to want to be just like me when they grew up.
Now that I am quickly approaching old age, I am ashamed of how often I let my kids down. I didn’t even live up to my own standards let alone all their own hopes and dreams. Yet, my treasure in earthen vessels? I am truly confident of my kids love for me. They show me kindness and compassion almost every day. They have granted me grace for my imperfections and have chosen to love me with tenderness. I believe that God was sovereign in His design for our family. My kids learned to extend grace to the unlovely. How blessed am I that my kids learned to show me grace even though I didn’t always merit that kindness! Praise God for the disappointments of life!
As I contemplate our life of ministry and service, our plans, though for the most part well intentioned and for God’s glory and His kingdom, did include certain aspirations, denominational appreciation, recognition, and a desire to be beloved (who wouldn’t?).
But as we both consider the ministry path we could’ve continued upon (comfortable, stable, status quo), we would have missed some very precious lessons God taught us about His incredible affection for us and His amazing grace for our broken lives. Those lessons were only learned through struggle, through sorrow, through forgiveness, through humility and through brokenness. Without the broken road, we would have missed the blessings which followed.
To this day, we praise the Lord for rescuing us from a life of status quo. We would much rather sing the praises of His amazing grace than be comfortable and confidently in some pulpit somewhere (though we don’t discount that God may call us back to a pulpit one day). There is nothing more exciting to us today than sharing with others the grace of God we’ve come to intimately know. Praise God for the disappointments of life!
So, what I am thankful for this year is the ‘broken road’ that God has sovereignly ordained and orchestrated for us from before time began so that we would proclaim the wonders of His grace, not just in word but from experience.
Every joy, every sorrow, every success, every failure, every good health report, every devastating illness, every new friend, every faded relationship, every dream, every loss…. It all was in God’s grand design to help me see Him more clearly. It was His kindness that caused me in desperation to cry out for His mercy and and to cling to His everlasting love. I guess it has been a less than admirable life from a human standpoint, but I have experienced His enduring presence in a deep, real, authentic way. You see, what could have been considered life’s greatest disappointments, have become the very things that God used to reveal Himself to me in the most tender way. And although, I wouldn’t want to live through many of them again, I’m still extremely thankful for them. Yes, disappointments and all.
Because, on this side of those disappointments, “I have found the One my soul loves.” And I’m eternally grateful to Him.
Because of His incredible grace, Heidi