Hey, friend. It’s been a while since we last connected. At least, in an intimate or personal way. I know, it’s kinda awkward to attempt to pick up where we left off when so much time has passed and so much stuff has occurred in life, in the world…
I’ve alluded to some challenges I’ve faced earlier this year in the few and far social media posts I’ve shared, but in case you weren’t following, 2023 didn’t have the greatest start for me. In my state of deep disappointment and dire despair I felt this need to retreat and self-protect. To pull away from certain comforts, eliminate go-tos on my daily to-do list, and isolate from the public sphere. To not fight or flight but instead remain stuck and still in an unfamiliar land of discomfort and unclarity.
Things went from cloudy to dark super quick, which shouldn’t have surprised me given the pace our world moves in, yet it did. I wasn’t prepared, nor could I have predicted, that the cloud hovering over me would transform into a storm of distress provoking a hurricane of emotion. Even though it caught me off-guard and tried to sweep me off my solid ground of security in the Sovereign, I knew I was experiencing this season for a reason. I also knew if I wanted to witness the rainbow after the storm, I would have to ride the waves first.
Storms don’t typically come out of nowhere. They brew in the distance, slowly revealing small signs that appear innocent, unrelated, or without threat. On their own these conditions are mostly harmless and often undetected, but when they come together, they can be hazardous, destructive, and aggressive, especially to places where vulnerability and weakness are present.
I should have sensed this season coming but the truth is, I had a lot of blind spots as well as an inward focus on self that prohibited me from seeing clearly or catching any warning signs. For years I had been walking through life thinking and believing I was following God’s best while blissfully unaware that the motives of my heart were putting my faith to the test.
Amidst the whirlwind and waves of the emotional hurricane, I sensed the steady hand of God to calm my storm…in [His] time. I knew His presence was near even though I couldn’t see it, couldn’t feel it. All I could do was wait and wade, trust and tread [water].
Pulling back [from the demands of the world] gradually drew me back in [to God] and away from my natural deflection. And like all seasons that come to pass, my storm moved on as well and the weather transitioned into something different, something new. Yet before I could enjoy it, I had some Spring cleaning to do – pruning of the potential and discarding of the decay.
5 lessons God is teaching me in 2023
1.) No pain, no gain
You’ve probably heard the mantra, “no pain, no gain,” as it applies to work ethic and achievement. Anyone who has ever written those words on the wall of their heart knows that pain, of any variety, is often present in challenging situations or undesirable circumstances. There are obstacles that stand in the way of getting to the place you intend to go. There are barriers that need to be conquered or they’ll become a stumbling block we continue to bump into or trip upon.
Pain, mainly in the psychological (emotional) form, was how my year began. Comparable to a 300lb+ contestant on the former reality show, Biggest Loser, the pain I experienced felt like a weight that was impossible to shed. Similar to someone who has packed on the pounds, my “weight” piled on for years, slowly, and without notice. Instead of addressing it head-on, I fed it lies until it distorted my perception of what was actually real. If you’ve ever battled weight gain before, then you know exactly what I am talking about.
The eating or feasting can be tangible food, drink, drug, or substance or it can be immaterial like neglect, naivety, or other means that disguise pain into a costume of ignorance. No matter your poison, the purpose is often the same – to numb or medicate the pain that is present.
My [emotional] pain started to bubble to the surface towards the end of 2022 and I handled it decently by wearing a smile and having an “I’m good, all’s good” mentality. I didn’t realize exactly how numb I had become until a very cold day in January while walking in the parking lot of Costco.
Holding hands with my youngest daughter, we skip-runned through the parking lot partly for fun but mostly because it was so frigid outside and this was a quick way to reach the doors of Costco. With my eyes on the entry ahead, I didn’t notice my daughter move in front of me which caused me to trip over her and tumble forward. In attempt to break my fall and protect my daughter, my bare hands skidded across the cold, sharp concrete and became a bloody mess. (Because I was wearing sneakers rather than boots, my ankles were also cut while my left knee and left hip were also badly bruised.) My daughter didn’t have a scratch on her (I fell over her which propelled her forward and on top of me), praise the Lord, but she was crying, nonetheless. I picked us up from the middle of the parking lot and walked (though I felt like crawling) inside the superstore to examine my wounds. When I was at the customer service desk receiving band-aids, I noticed how much skin had peeled off in my fall and how much physical pain I felt. After several bandage changes, the bleeding eventually stopped but the physical pain lingered for days.
What occurred in the Costco parking lot in January physically broke my skin and hurt like hell, but it also broke the barrier of desensitization and allowed the psychological pain to pour through. I didn’t understand the what, the why, or the how, but I knew it was necessary to drain the excess that was holding me back from accessing the fullness of God.
I knew God was there in my pain and that He has a purpose for it, but I couldn’t see it, nor could I sense Him with me. Still, I trusted His presence was near and allowed the weight and the painful build-up to drain until depletion.
“The Lord is near the brokenhearted;Psalm 34:18 (CSB)
He saves those crushed in spirit.”
2.) Misplaced motivations can create unalignment with God’s assignment
I tend to be a “yes girl” – I say yes to opportunities to serve, attend, host, do, create, and more. Naturally then, and especially when I feel I’m in a spiritually healthy place, I say “yes” to God and whatever He has planned for me. No questions asked, no concerns expressed. Simply, “yes, Lord. Thy will be done.”
Over the past five years, there were a few kinda crazy things I felt God calling me to pursue or preparing me for that I obeyed or submitted my “yes” to. Some of these things have come to fruition and have produced fruit of purpose and promise, but some of the other things have not and it is these things that challenge my faith and test my trust.
There were three things I felt God prompting me to pursue in 2022 that I surely believed would come true sooner rather than later. I obeyed. I did the next right thing even when I didn’t understand the whats or whys or what the next step would be. I prayed. I trusted. I followed the way of the Lord and pushed aside my own…
…or so I thought.
Less than a week after my birthday in January, I received news of rejection from two opportunities I felt God calling me to pursue. Part of me was prepared for the first rejection but I was still shaken when it arrived. As soon as I read the opening statement, “We regret to inform you…”, I suspected this must mean the other opportunity I had on the table would certainly follow through. That wasn’t the case. Exactly 24 hours later I learned the second opportunity was also a rejection.
Or at least that’s how it felt. Like I failed. Like I had heard God wrong, messed up in some way, or didn’t do exactly what He wanted me to do. (Side note: There should be an instruction manual on the specific steps to take when God prompts you to do something or lead you to pursue something…oh wait, that’s faith…) I felt like all the time I dedicated towards these potential opportunities was wasted, energy exhausted, and hopes elevated all for zero ROI.
I was sitting in a place of defeat and disappointment, and it only got worse in February. That was when the emotional hemorrhage was gushing at a heavy, uncontainable pace and I couldn’t make it stop. But I wasn’t supposed to. Instead, I felt God urging me to open the floodgates, let all the emotions flow and feel the hurt, pain, disappointment, etc. as it pours out and exits my body. “Sit, wait, feel” was the message of the moment that caused me to retreat from a lot of things (including my writing and social media posts) and say “no” to anything that would numb, distract, or remove me from this season of stillness and sorrow.
And friend, I actually did it. I actually did NOTHING (read: NO THINGS) outside of my ordinary obligations and customary commitments to my faith, family, and friends. The “yes girl” inside of me couldn’t handle not striving but the “God girl” within me was content seeking and sitting still, perhaps for the first time ever.
I sat there for all of February and March, and slowly (veeerrrryyyyy slooooooowly) I could feel the tension loosen, the weight lift, and the pain heal. Towards the end of March, I started asking God to reveal to me the purpose of this place because it was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. Shortly after those prayers of inquiry began, a close friend of mine asked me a simple question with complex implications.
I realized in my acts of obedience to God I was misplacing my motivations. I wanted His best, but not His way nor on His time. And deep down I learned I don’t want to let Him down. I don’t want to waste the life He has gifted me. I want my life to matter to Him, to my family, to the world…I’m scared I won’t fulfill the plans and purposes God has for me. I worry my life will end and I won’t receive the affirmation of being a good and faithful servant.
In my heart I know what God says to be true, but in March I was wrestling with many fears and falsehoods that I didn’t even know had taken up residency in my mind. The disappointment, rejection, and perceived failure uncovered misplaced motivations that God knew I needed to address if I desired to be in alignment with His purposeful assignment.
“I am sure of this, that He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6 (CSB)Philippians 1:6 (CSB)
3.) Revoked control
Upon learning I had misplaced my motives and motivations, I was confronted with the hard truth that I have very limited control of my life and the world around me.
Of course, I always knew this was the case but there’s something about the human condition that believes we possess power, authority, and ability to determine any outcome, condition, or experience.
When I read that back, it makes me grateful God exposed this ugliness within me so He could sanctify me through it.
I trusted God to take care of me, provide for me, you know, all the standard things, but held on to this false hope that I had some say in the final result. Obviously, I didn’t otherwise the months of January and February would have gone differently and I wouldn’t have felt like my dreams were destroyed and my purpose plucked away.
“All a person’s ways seem right to him,Proverbs 16:2-3 (CSB)
but the Lord weighs motives. Commit your activities to the Lord,
and your plans will be established.”
4.) Slow & steady wins the race
Over a weeknight family dinner in April, my eldest made a comment about how rushed and clustered our home life was a year ago. We recounted how our family dinners were mainly consumed of takeout food “on the go” rather than meals prepared at home and together as a family. I found this recollection interesting, and it led me to reflect on life in Spring 2022.
Spring 2022 was the busiest our family had ever been. This was mainly due to having four children in various Spring activities but also having four school-aged children with all the end-of-the-year festivities and obligations. The wild thing about my daughter’s comment is that Spring 2023 was even busier than Spring 2022. So what gives?
Intentionality. Priorities. Time management.
But perhaps the biggest differentiator – me.
Pulling back from my own wants and plugging into my own needs has allowed me to become a better, more present, wife and mother. When I was running fast and hard and trying to do all the things and wear all the hats, I wasn’t running the race set forth for me. I was an active participant in the world’s rat race and it ran me ragged.
Is my life (and my family’s life) still busy? Yes, very much so. BUT – we are sustaining a pace of purpose and are building endurance that will sustain each of us for the seasons ahead.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured from sinners such hostility against Himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.”Hebrews 12:1-3 (ESV)
5.) There’s a season for everything
As I write this on June 1st, I am witnessing new life all around me. New births and birthdays. New growth in spirituality. Leaves returning to their home on the stable foundation of trees deeply rooted. Flowers blooming beautifully and long days of light illuminating hope.
There is so much to be grateful for, both in the cold, dark, barren days of winter as well as in the light, airy, warmth of Spring and heat of Summer. I still don’t fully understand why I experienced the many things I experienced earlier this year, but I don’t think I have to, right now. I see glimpses of purpose shining through and that is enough for me.
I trust God had a reason for me living through that dark and dreary season – whether it was to purge my spirit of toxins and cleanse it through grace, truth, and love, or to knock me down from the pedestal of self-righteousness, or to sanctified me through the pain to prepare me for His purpose. Whatever the case, these last few months have taught me that it is okay to say “no,” to retreat, to remain still, and to feel.
Suffering, in any form, is not a desired condition anyone wants to experience. Even so, it is in our suffering that our faith is challenged, our character accessed, and our willingness to persist put to the test (Romans 5:3-4).
“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 (ESV)
I’m entering Summer renewed and rejuvenated. I don’t want to make the same mistakes I did last Summer that lead me to be head over water. Instead, I want to be refreshed by the Living Water and the well that runs deep within my soul. I may not see the bottom but I trust He is there, as He’s always been, living through me, watching over me, and doing His work in me whether the weather is sunshine or a storm.