He Never Promised Us a Rose Garden

For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die. A time to kill and a time to heal…A time to cry and a time to laugh. A time to grieve and a time to dance.”  Ecclesiastes 3:1-4 NLT

Can I be bold with you?  Sometimes life just sucks.  For those of you offended by that word, please forgive me but honestly in some situations there’s really no better non-cuss word to use.  Seriously think about it-throughout history there has been generations of people who endured much suffering and I am certain there are people right now in your family or neighborhood who seem to repeatedly get dealt an unlucky hand in the poker game we call life.  Sometimes-we are that person who’s parade is ever being rained on and no matter how hard we fight, crawl, climb, scrape and cry-out for help it seems we’re continuously being knocked down and will forever remain in a pit of bad-luck and despair.

I’ve had my share of “bad luck”-my life has been a whirlwind of high hopes and deep disappointments. I’ve experience sudden deaths of loved ones including my step-dad when I was just 7-years-old.  In my 20’s I lost the one man who was a constant in my life, my grandfather, to lung cancer.  Add to that the betrayal of friends, a few abusive relationships, growing up around violent alcoholics and at times feeling abandoned by own biological father, you could say my life hasn’t been all sunshine and roses. There have been years I felt like I was just moving in circles and other years I felt I was running on a hamster wheel striving to rise above all the junk but really just going nowhere and wearing myself out in the process.

To make matters worse, I’ve seen people I care deeply about have their whole lives turned upside by major tragedies-sometimes it’s a sickness, sometimes it’s a family member (or themselves) battling an addiction, other times it’s a break-up or divorce, sometimes it’s the sudden loss of a loved one or the untimely death of a family member or a friend due to a lengthy illness.  Then I turn on the news or read online and tragedy is splattered everywhere.  Just last week I watched a video of a shell-shocked boy, only 8-years-old being pulled away from rubble and left alone in an ambulance while rescue workers searched for other survivors and casualties.  The clip showed him completely  gray in color covered in ash, with no emotion on his face.  He rubbed his eye, barely blinking, touched his bloodied head and looked at his hand.  The sight of blood on his hand didn’t even excite or upset him.

I cannot tell you how many times I have cried over the tragedy of others.  My heart breaks over my own disappointments and losses but when I see others hurting or going through a trial that just doesn’t make sense I cry for them, I get angry at God for them and there are times I simply ask God, “Why?”  Other times I cry out, “God this is so unfair!”  And I cover them in prayer whenever they come to mind.  When I see others hurting I also tend to want to hug them until their hurt goes away.  I want to make them feel better and make them whole again.  I forget that I am not God and He alone is the One True Healer.  Only God can turn broken hearts into whole ones again.  His word not only says so, He shows how He does it through Job and Ruth.

Ruth was a young widow in a foreign country. Her mother-in-law, Naomi, was engulfed with grief after losing not only her husband but also her two sons.  The only family she had left was her two daughters-in-law.  In that culture it was normal for a sibling to marry his brother’s widow.  Alas, for Ruth and her sister-in-law this was not an option as both siblings were deceased.  Naomi felt her daughters-in-law would be better off returning to their home country for a chance to find new husbands and bare children.  Neither wanted to leave her at first, but after a little urging Ruth’s sister-in-law left Naomi and returned to her home land.  Ruth however clung to Naomi.  One of my favorite verses in the Bible is when Ruth says to Naomi, “Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.” (Ruth 1:16 NLT) And Ruth’s persistence pays off because Naomi finally permits Ruth to stay with her.  That decision ends up being the turning point in changing both Naomi and Ruth’s circumstance from despair to redemption.  Ruth lost her husband. Naomi lost her son.  But God placed them in the hands of a kinsman redeemer who became Ruth’s husband and in a way an honorary son to Naomi.  In the ends, Naomi’s friends (or moreover perhaps the town gossips) praise God by saying, “Praise the Lord, who has now provided a redeemer for your family! May this child be famous in Israel. May he restore your youth and care for you in your old age. For he is the son of your daughter-in-law who loves you and has been better to you than seven sons!” (Ruth 4:14-15 NLT)

The other example of God moving a pit dweller into a land walker is good ole’ Job.  In Job 1, he is introduced as a man who fear God and stayed away from evil.  He was also a man who was very wealthy, married and had several children.  Life you could say for Job was “smooth-sailing.”  Along comes satan who mocks Job’s faith by implying Job was only a follower of Christ because God had given him such an easy life.  God’s response?  He allowed the belly-crawler that satan is to attack Job and test his faith.  First Job lost his livelihood.  He had no time to absorb this kind of a hit before he was informed ALL of his children were killed at once.  If that wasn’t enough, God even allowed satan to attack Job’s health and he ended up covered in painful boils. Job didn’t just fall into a pit, he was thrown in by the arrogant punk coward forked tongue fallen angel Lucifer.  AND GOD ALLOWED IT!!!!  For me that is the most shocking part of Job’s story. God allowed a faithful follower of his to hit rock bottom simply to prove that nothing would shake Job’s faith to the point that he would turn against God.

Even though Job grieved, tore his clothing and covered himself in ash-he was credited for not sinning against God during this horribly tragic time.  In the end God restored to Job all that he had lost, two fold.  He doubled Job’s fortune and restored to him the exact number of children Job had lost.  JOb was even cured from his boils. (Job 42)

These are just two examples of restoration and redemption.  God’s word is filled with so many more.  In this life-God still restores and redeem.  If you are going through a difficult time, learning to live life without the person you loved most in it or feeling like you are forever stuck in a pit or just going in circles please be encouraged that God is with you, He will not leave you nor forsake you and just like Psalms 40 reminds us, He will pull us from the mud and the mire.  In fact, I’d like to end this post with Psalm 40.  I pray it encourages anyone who reads it and empowers you to walk tall knowing God is for you, not against you.  If you surrender your wounds to the Father He will make you whole again. Be open to love.  God tends to show His love for us through the love of others.  He’s also been known to use the love of others to mend our brokenness.  Ruth and Job’s hearts were crushed but God not only pieced them back together He enlarged their hearts to love again. After all, they’re hearts had to have grown twice in size at least to love those they had lost and have room to love the ones they had gained also.

“I waited patiently for the Lord to help me,

and he turned to me and heard my cry.

He lifted me out of the pit of despair,

out of the mud and the mire.

He set my feet on solid ground

and steadied me as I walked along.

He has given me a new song to sing,

a hymn of praise to our God.

Many will see what he has done and be amazed.

They will put their trust in the Lord.” (Psalm 40:1-3 NLT)

One final thought before I close-God doesn’t just promise to bind up broken hearts-Psalm 30 tells us He promises to turn our mourning into joyful dancing, and to clothe us with joy (verse 11.)  Grief is part of the process when one experiences loss.  But it’s a process, not a way of life. Eventually to move past grief we have to release the wound and allow God to mend it so that we will no longer have the desire to mourn but instead be filled with joy and gladness once again.

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My August Son

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” Psalms 139: 13-14 NIV

When I was fifteen-years-old and completely frustrated with my two-year-old brother who would not stop walking across my board game, I looked up at the ceiling and yelled, “IF YOU’RE A SMART GOD, YOU WON’T LET ME HAVE CHILDREN!”  As a little girl I loved playing house and had many baby dolls but as a teenager, I never liked babysitting, never had patience with small children.  That impatience readily increased with having three younger brothers who are 14, 16 and 20 years younger than me.

That all changed in my twenties.  First, God moved me into children’s ministry and I fell in love with a fantastic little toddler named, Andrew.  He and I spent many evenings in the church nursery watching Muppets while his mom attended whatever class was being offered at the time.  That little guy could turn any bad day into a happy one in just a few short moments of silly interactions.  In 2001, I quit working at that church and moved out of state.  Unfortunately, I have no idea how my toddler buddy has grown up.

When I was twenty-five, during a routine exam, my doctor discovered some health problems that only surgery would fix.  The day after my surgery I learned I only had a 50% chance of ever having children. It was at that moment I recalled that exasperated prayer of a selfish 15-year-old girl and I prayed that God didn’t take me seriously then and would gift me with children.  Two years later, He gifted me with a beautiful daughter.  Twenty-one months after she was born, I gave birth to her baby brother.  After that I had two more surgeries that reduced my chance of pregnancy down to 0%.

Every year on my children’s birthdays I tell them the story of how they were born.  As unique as their personalities are to this day, so were my pregnancies and subsequently, their births.  My son’s was the hardest pregnancy, easiest birth.  After complications I suffered birthing my daughter, my only option to birth my son was a scheduled cesarean section. Although it was petrifying to be fully awake during such a major surgery, having no labor pains and delivering a child in a matter of minutes was a tremendous blessing compared to the 13 hours of labor including an hour and a half of pushing to deliver my daughter.  His pregnancy was tough-his birth was easy-but life with him has been an adventurous challenge ever since.

My son was colicky at birth.   He cried so much that there were days I didn’t even want to come home from work because I knew he was just going to cry and I couldn’t console him.  Honestly, I would cry too.  I felt guilty and helpless all at the same time.  He had stomach issues that led to multiple types of formula changes, food allergy testing at the appropriate age, and even an upper GI.  He also bounced between ear and sinus infections for several years. He was on so much antibiotic I worried he would become immune to its effects.  If that wasn’t enough he ended up with asthma, severe allergies and hernia surgery by the age of 6.  He endured allergy shots for seven years and spent many school days in the office using a nebulizer during croup season. We became frequent flyers to our pediatrician, allergist and the children’s hospital that was two hours away.  If his health wasn’t a big enough challenge for him and me, he was also diagnosed with ADHD when he was 5.

ADHD has its own challenges.  One of those was determining to medicate or not.  We tried both.  The first meds he was on he acted like a drug addict coming off a high when the med was wearing off.  The second med made him completely indifferent to anything-as if he had no emotions at all.   He was pulled off meds and for five years we tried behavior management and naturopathic methods.  By fifth grade he was struggling academically, behaviorally and emotionally.  With a resistant heart (I am a very anti-pill popping parent) he was put back on an ADHD medication.  I praise God this one is working with minimal side effects.

As he enters his final year of childhood and prepares for the teen years, I’ve reflected on how much he’s grown over the past 12 years.  In spite of his health hardships and behavioral struggles, my son is one of the toughest and gentlest young men I have the pleasure of knowing.  No matter the setback we would experience, he was taught to treat it as his norm and to persevere in spite of it.  He has a natural athletic ability hitting pitched baseballs and bumping volleyballs at the age of 3.  He is a man’s man kind of boy and loves everything that has to do with being a guy.  He even demands to have man soap for showering.  He has however been banned from Axe body spray after excessive usage caused major eye burning, choking and a literal evacuation from the house. My favorite thing about him is that his tender heart still loves to snuggle with his momma even though he’s embarrassed if I kiss him in public.

Raising him has changed me.  Having a child with ADHD requires patience that I was simply not born with.  With God’s grace though I can actually find humor in seeing his pants hanging from my ceiling fan and  finding his socks hanging from magnets on the refrigerator when he was supposed to be getting ready for school.  On days when he is super high energy, God equips me with added measures of patience as well as creativity to help him burn off his energy in a positive way.  Most importantly, raising him has taught me I am not in control-God truly is.  I never planned to have my children so close in age, but God did.  I never planned to have a son who would have multiple health and behavior issues or to be raising my children as a single parent.  But God did.  And with each setback, health scare, meltdown, impulsive outburst and hyperactive day, God’s been with us helping us through each one.  He has a huge purpose for my son and I know every hardship we’ve endured is making him into the man God made him to be.  I pray every day my son will continue to seek God and learn what his purpose is in order to effectively live it out.

Recently I stumbled up a poem I had written years before my children were born.  It was actually written during a time when I was on the fence of wanting children.  It was entitled, Unconditional Love.  These are the words from that poem:

“Although you are not born yet,

The love I feel for you has always existed.

Even though you haven’t been created yet,

I’ve always felt you growing inside of me, inside of my heart.

You’ve always been a part of my life.

When I was a child you were the baby doll I dressed up and played house                                      with.

Now that I am a woman, you are a mystery that will someday be my reality.

You are my child, my son, my daughter…”

Fourteen years ago, that mystery mentioned in my poem became a reality with the birth of my daughter.  Twelve years ago, that reality doubled with the birth of my August son.