Have you ever heard the expression ask God for patience and He will surely give you the opportunity for patience? I have to laugh when I hear it because it’s so very true. This week in the Listen, Love, Repeat launch team we learned about loving the cranky and cantankerous people in our lives. The “on purpose” people (or situations) who are placed there – by God. As each chapter builds, I find Karen’s message pulling me deeper into a thought process about the why instead of the what or the who. Each paragraph brought forth an image of someone in my own life who was part of, what I now see as my own growth – mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. We are so often presented with people and situations that help define our gift, our strengths, and mold us into who God needs us to be.
I’m reminded of the scripture passage from Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones, and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.”
There are many beautiful quotes floating around the internet that, I believe, have their basis from this scripture. They speak of the people who come in and go out of our lives and the purpose they have at that time or season of our life. Can’t we all look back on our lives and find examples of this? I know I can.
Karen bases most of this chapter around Luke 6:35: “But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.” and uses the scripture to point out that the “On Purpose” people in our lives are God’s ways of helping us reach beyond our comfort zone; His way to help us grow and stretch beyond our comfort zone.
We love others out of obedience to God and leave the results to Him, because it is Christ we are serving. ~~ Karen Ehman
It wasn’t until fairly recently that these truths became apparent in my own life. I’ve had many opportunities over the years to hug a few porcupines – at work, at home, with family, and with friends. I haven’t always welcomed those opportunities nor have I seen them as opportunities for growth. Whether I walked away, responded with a quick verbal reply, or sought some other means to justify my reaction – I was the center of the decision. I was in control. But then came a season where I lost all control and the lesson to slow down – to pause – and to trust had to find its way into my life. It opened my eyes to the suffering of others; perhaps the underlying reason for their crankiness or that growth opportunity for myself.
Over this half century lifetime of mine I’ve seen my ups and downs, but I can look back and see how each circumstance made me into a pretty strong woman. Even in the moments of extreme sadness, I found my way out and crawled to the top. Then in 2014 life’s circumstances began to kick my butt. Each of my children were experiencing life’s heartaches – all at the same time. Their saddness and confusion wore heavy on my heart. So much so that it consumed me – I attempted to try and fix everything with MY strength and wisdom. I couldn’t change their circumstances, but I was their immediate support system, listener at all times of the day and night, the ‘do whatever they needed’ kind of mom. All of these things sound like our job as good moms but for those who have “been there – done that” you know in time – it’s debilitating. After months of this, the saddness for my children found its resting place deep down inside. At the same time, I was helping my husband’s family with the care of my in-laws. My mother-in-law, recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and her loyal husband didn’t live far from me and some weekly meals and company seemed the least I could do for two people who I’ve known most of my life. I loved them dearly, and was grateful for the opportunity the family gave me to be a part of their care, however the saddness of her condition took its place right on top of that saddness for my kids and my inability to fix the situation. In August her condition worsened and she entered a full time care facility. I remember sitting in church, alone, one afternoon and I began to sob. I said “God – enough – I don’t think I can take anymore.” After some time, from deep within, I heard the message “I am preparing you for something more.” I was overcome by fear. I got up and walked out – wanting to shut the reality of that thought down completely. This saddness was draining me. October 2014, suddenly, my father-in-law passed away. The emotional blow was as hard as a knock-out punch. This other daddy to me was gone. The shock to my husband and his siblings was heart breaking to watch. Still in the midst of this reality, two weeks after my father-in-law’s passing, my youngest daughter began to experience numbness and tingling throughout her body. I brushed it off as nothing, hoping it would go away on its own, but it didn’t. The next few weeks I can only describe as an emotional crash of waves pounding us – one after another. One day blended into another, as doctor appointments and testing now took over our daily routine. Two days before Christmas of 2015, doctors shared that preliminary testing pointed towards a form of MS – Clinically Isolated Syndrome – was the diagnosis of my 21 year old daughter. Have you ever had a wave take you under; that feeling that you can see what’s going on but you are being spun around and pulled under and it’s so hard to breathe? This is where I was.
The next several months were filled with watching her undergo excruciating tests. I didn’t know which was worse, the testing or watching her endure so many things going wrong in her life at the time. She just graduated college, a life of love and happiness were awaiting her – why this? I’d like to say the year got easier – it didn’t. We experienced several devastating losses throughout 2015 – the loss of aunts, uncles and cousins, and the sickness of close friends. We are still in this season. June of this year, my husband and his siblings had another devastating loss -the sudden passing of their oldest brother – days after his retirement.
Life will no doubt bring us difficult people and situations, but when we remember to add the “pause” and use it to listen, we can often find the gift within. Take the rose as an example – it’s gentle roots are placed into the soil, we nurture it, feed it, place it in the sun and wait for it to grow. As it does, it naturally develops a protective mechanism – thorns. The thorns protect the sweet, tender flower from being eaten and destroyed. Whether it’s life’s prickly moments, difficult people, or hurtful words we have the choice to respond in a way that will allow us to grow spiritually and become the voice, the ears, and the heart of Jesus – leaving the results to Him. When we respond as a service to Him, He in turn smoothes out our sharp edges. We become more understanding, gentler, patient, and more reliant on His power over the circumstances in our life.
My daughter is doing well and thriving. By giving God control, I’ve watched her strength and resilience as well as her own faith emerge and take root in her life. We are embracing the memories of our lost loved ones and using the lessons of loss to communicate better as well as making the time we have with our loved ones count. I am a work in progress. I fall down. I fail. However, one of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that my response is always MY choice, and if I place my trust in this Saviour I speak of, that choice will define my reaction. That reaction will be the opportunity for growth that God has in store for me.
So the next time you come across someone that you’d rather avoid or a situation you want to run from or control – remember to pause – and ask God for the grace to act and speak on His behalf as you serve Him in the moment.
There is a beautiful song written by a Christian artist, Colton Dixon, called Through All Of It. These words bring peace to my soul.
I have won and I have lost.
I got it right sometimes, and sometimes I did not.
Life’s been a journey, I’ve seen joy. I’ve seen regret..
And You have been my God through all of it.