Joy Out of Despair

A while back I had the joy of leading my Bible study group since our leader was out of town. The lesson was from 1 Samuel 1. Many of us who were brought up in church are quite familiar with the story of Hannah. She was barren, prayed for a son, and God answered. Many times in our study we spend most of the time focusing on the main character of the story. Usually this would be Hannah. In reality, however, the primary character is God. In my study, I focused on the character of God and how he responds to someone in great distress and need.

This story takes place in a time when polygamy was the norm. This was not God’s perfect plan, but the culture embraced it. And, it always made life messy for everyone. Hannah’s husband had two wives. The other wife, Peninnah, had children, Hannah had none. It appears that Peninnah’s main goal in life was to make life miserable, even unbearable for Hannah. She wanted to crush her.

The Message, I Samuel 1:6, reveals the true environment for Hannah, “But her rival wife taunted her cruelly, rubbing it in and never letting her forget that God had not given her children. This went on year after year.” All of this finally took its toll on Hannah. She stopped eating. She was despondent. She wept. She was crushed. At least she felt crushed. But, she wasn’t.

She went to the sanctuary of the Lord and she cried out to God in prayer. “In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord.” (v 10, NIV) I read this verse in 13 translations and this is what I found about her emotional and physical condition:

  • She was in deep anguish
  • She was in bitterness of soul
  • She was deeply hurt
  • She was crushed in soul
  • She was in great distress
  • She was resentful
  • She was sad
  • She cried bitterly
  • She was brokenhearted
  • She was bold enough to ask for something big.

This was severe hurting and she did severe crying! She was in excruciating emotional pain. She came as she was. She was even vulnerable enough for Eli, the priest to see her in this condition. She was desperate. She was broken. What did God do? He heard, He comforted, He restored, He understood, He answered. He blessed. He restored her physically and emotionally. Verse 18, 19 says, “She went on her way and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast. Early the next morning they arose and worshiped before the Lord.”

Four weeks ago I found myself in the midst of all the emotions that Hannah experienced. My despair was different from hers, but every bit as intense. My sister died. She lost her battle with cancer. Kimberly was 6 years younger than me and what joy came to my life when she was born! We loved each other deeply. We valued this special relationship and honored each other in ways that allowed us to nurture one another in the good times of life and in the bad times of life. We mothered each other, we were best friends, we were blood sisters, but more than that, we were soul sisters. We understood each other. We could be real with each other. We accepted each other even though we were very different.

SO many gifts received through this amazing woman! My loss is deep. My hurt is deep. My grief is deep.

I am greatly blessed to have family and friends who understand this deep agony. None of them have the attitude of, “Get over it.” They let me talk. They let me feel. They let me cry. They check on me. They pray for me. Oh, how this helps! God is using so many to help me walk this journey.

Even though these precious ones are helping me walk this journey, I know that no one can comfort me in those deepest places where the deepest pain resides in my soul like Jesus. He knows every little thing about me. He knows what each pain is connected to. He has perfect understanding of all the inward workings of my heart and soul. He knows how to give me the comfort, restoration and healing that needs to ultimately come. He is present. I must be aware of that Holy Presence and spend lots of time resting in that place.

What are the results of going to God in our brokenness, pain, and desperation? What happens when we come to him with sobs of grief and hurt and pure honesty? It takes us to a deeper place of knowing God. It takes us to a deeper place of trusting God. It takes us to a place of humility. It takes us to a deeper place of surrender. It takes us to a deeper place of worship. It takes us to a place of hope and healing.

We are always welcomed into God’s presence just as we are. These words penned by David Crowder in the song “Come As You Are” express this place so well.

Come out of sadness from wherever you’ve been
Come broken-hearted, let rescue begin
Come find your mercy, oh sinner come kneel
Earth has no sorrow that heaven can’t heal.

There’s joy for the morning
Oh sinner be still Earth has no sorrow
That heaven can’t heal.

My sister found Heaven’s perfect joy and healing when she took her final breath here on Earth and went safely Home to live forever with her Beloved Jesus. For us still here, we can be assured that mourning doesn’t last forever. It is for a season. There is an ebb and flow to this time of suffering. The time of tears will be further and further apart. I have faith and hope because of the Words of Life that I find in the promises of scripture and because of the One I’ve put my trust in.

“You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!” David’s words in Psalm 30:11-12. These are words for me . . . and perhaps for you today!

Navigating the Uncomfortable New

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Frequently we encounter situations that are quite uncomfortable. Perhaps it’s a new social gathering where we find ourselves not knowing many people. Some personalities are quite social and love these types of opportunities. It’s an adventure for them, nothing awkward. But, as an introvert, discomfort is, well . . . uncomfortable.

Discomfort comes in many forms. Sometimes changes in the family system create new family dynamics that cause great anxiety. Family changes with new dynamics are difficult to handle and often cause great inward distress when the family gets together. Some changes can be good, but some can be traumatic. Experiencing these changes, good or traumatic, will be different for each person involved because of our own uniqueness – it’s all part of our own story. Navigating these challenging waters and managing the “new” is difficult because of the unknown and because we all come into the new situation with different perspectives.

During the last few months I’ve waded through some new territory – which I was not prepared for. Big changes have affected me greatly. However, God is using this as a powerful tool to refine me and to help me know me better. I’m grateful that I’m learning to accept who I am in a healthier way than ever before. That’s not easy! But, the progress I’m making is freeing and it is good.

Finding my way has been so much easier because of the safe places God has given me to share my heart. Fortunately, those safe places are an understanding husband, children, and friends. I’ve appreciated the empathy and the affirmation given by each. These are gifts.

Words of encouragement and wisdom came from one particular person that is not only beneficial for the present, but also for the future when I encounter another hard place. Here are words full of truth:

  • Things won’t be perfect.
  • What is will be okay.
  • Live in freedom to be you.
  • Allow yourself to feel your feelings.
  • Know God will honor your commitment to try and build relationships.

I believe these five things can be beneficial for your present and your future, too. I wrote them down. I revisit them. I practice them. I am in growth. Join me in this journey.

The Good and the Bad of Transitions

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I know transitions are a part of life, and yet I wasn’t ready for the emotional ride that came with the change of moving from one house to another. I would have thought that joy would have been the only emotion felt when the opportunity of moving into a new house came, but was I ever in for a surprise. Yes, there was joy, but there was also a slew of other feelings like sadness, guilt, and fear, all accompanied with a lot of exhaustion and moments of just feeling crazy. All of those emotions together spelled confusion. I now realize all of these were normal emotions that can arise from being in transition. One of those crazy moments was even adjusting to a beautiful new refrigerator. I found myself missing my old almond colored refrigerator that I’d had for twenty years! All of this to say, change can be hard. As I look back over those weeks I see some truths that emerged which helped and will help me again in managing future transitions:

  • Accept that it’s okay and it’s normal to experience a myriad of emotions during transition.
  • Acknowledge these feelings through honest communication with self, with trusted others, and with God in prayer.
  • Let go of guilt that often comes with transition.
  • Allow the time that is needed to adjust to the new.
  • Understand that tremendous positive growth can happen during this time.

Life will continue being filled with transitions. There will be a saying good-bye to something. An ending will come. BUT, there is a beginning to something new. God says, “Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall you not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.” Isaiah 43:19

Many other transitions have taken place in my life within the last year, some big, some small, some chosen, some not, some good, some bad. In the midst of transitions I’ve waited upon God to show me what to do next. Waiting is hard and I don’t like it! But, in the waiting, I always learn so much more about God and about myself. New doors opened that allow me to love and serve others that would have never happened if not for the transitions I have experienced during the last year. It is an exciting ride!