It has been a long time since I blogged, so here’s to starting back! A year ago my world dramatically changed. And while it is probably not fair to say that and not go into detail, I’m not sure that story is ready for the world wide web quite yet, if ever. I suppose the best summary is that I am now a single mama, raising three girls and still doing full-time children’s ministry.
The past year has not been easy. But I know that I am not alone in having a tough road. I know that learning from them has helped me, so today I want to share a few of the lessons I’ve learned, just in case there might be someone else who is facing not easy and could use a little encouragement.
1. God has a plan for my life and it just might be diametrically opposed to the plan I have. God was not surprised by my situation. Though I was surprised and devastated, He was not caught off guard. While I felt my future was in shambles, He has the future in His hands. This is not what I wanted. This is not what I ever dreamed. This is not the story I would have written for my children. But, He, the author of salvation, is a much better writer. He knows the end. He knows how this all fits, even though it is not my plan. I have to trust that His plan, according to Jeremiah 29:11, is for good and not for evil. His plan is to give us a future and a hope. That is truth, even if it is different than the plan I had laid out.
2. God is all-powerful, sovereign, and good. Still. This statement was the main truth in our Gospel Project lesson for kids just a few weeks before the bottom fell out on my family. It is truth that I have clung to ever since. It is just as true in the dark and ugly as it was when I thought everything was ok. Just because life isn’t like I think it should be or He didn’t intervene like I thought He should, does not mean that He is not who He is. He is powerful enough to change my situation. But He chose not to. That does not mean He is not good. That does not mean I am not loved. That does not mean He is not in control. He is absolutely in control. He is just not in my control. His word says that somehow He will take all of this mess and work it together for good (Romans 8:28). And even His good may look different than my first opinion of good. But that does not change how good He is. Because I can know that He is all-powerful, sovereign, and good, I can know that there is a purpose behind the pain and that there is a God who is with me every step of the way.
3. This world is broken and I am not immune to that. Jesus talks a lot more about suffering than He talks about sunshine and roses and problem-free living. I think sometimes we assume those suffering verses are for other people, but surely not for me and my family. We are good. I am in ministry. I raise my girls to love Jesus. Surely the hard stuff is not for me. I read a great quote in a Beth Moore Bible study: “This world is too broken for us to make our goal not getting hurt.” Over the past couple of years I have seen people that I dearly love walk through unimaginable heartache. Who am I to think I was immune? Jesus does say that in this world we will have troubles. All of us. But He also says that HE has overcome the world.
4. When you are hurting and the church is the church, it is a beautiful thing. I write this knowing that not everyone who is hurting has experienced this truth. Unfortunately too many hurting people are hurt by church people. But when the church gets it right and functions as a loving, supporting, hand-holding, needs supplying-community it is absolutely amazing. And life-giving. And if you aren’t allowing yourself to be a part of that on either end, you are missing out.
5. I can’t do it all. For me, one of the hardest parts of single parenting is that none of the responsibilities go away, but your help does. Dishes and laundry and bedtimes and homework and ministry work and softball practices and church meetings and etc… still exist and still have to happen. I felt overwhelmed trying to do it all, while at the same time grieving and processing what had happened. And I continually felt like a failure. One day, I was upset about having to make some concessions that I didn’t want to make. A wise friend spoke simple, needed, hard words to me: “You cannot do everything. That doesn’t even make sense.” Truth.
6. I certainly can’t do it all on my own. For most of my life I have been fiercely independent and pretty private. For whatever reasons, I don’t like talking about me. I would rather talk about you and your life all day long. I don’t like to ask for help. I learned quickly in this process that trying to function totally on my own would probably literally kill me. I needed people. I needed to share with people and be vulnerable. I needed to hash out all of the ugly. I needed people to cheer for me and to tell me when I was not responding appropriately. I needed people to tell me to eat and sleep. I needed people to take my kids for awhile. I needed people to give me wise counsel so I didn’t make rash decisions. I needed to let people walk in and clean my house because they wanted to. This all involved letting people in and living out all the ugly in front of them. It involved letting people in my messy house and my messy life. It meant asking for help… a lot. I am so very, very grateful for the village of people that God has surrounded me with – both family and friends and friends who are like family.
7. Sometimes survival is the only goal. Some days it has been just one day at a time, one step at a time. Sometimes the greatest accomplishment was just making it to the next day. That sounds overly dramatic, but not every day will be a great victory and that in itself can feel like defeat. Some days are absolutely awful for no apparent reason. Lamentations 3:22-23 says, “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” There are days the goal has to be just to get to the next day. Where because of His grace, His mercies were new again because of His faithfulness. But it does get better. Today is better than three months ago. You’ve just got to keep putting one foot in front of the other and keep making it to that next day.
8. There are things I just can’t fix. In ministry I like to solve problems. I like to brainstorm solutions and fix systems. That is how my brain is wired. But probably one of the hardest things for me to accept in all of this is that this situation was something I could not fix for me or for my kids. It was 100% outside of my control. There were not right words, there was no strategy, there was not a single thing that I could do to make it better. And really, that is ok. Because God is the fixer of broken hearts. And I need my girls to depend on Him for that, not me.
9. Running may not be of the devil. Taking care of me is not bad and it is not selfish. Who knows how I got that idea in my head. Running and exercise became a great outlet for me. While I have a love/hate relationship with running, I have no doubt that over the past months God has used it to keep me sane. It has made me feel strong and relieves stress. Some nights it helps me sleep because I’m physically tired. It is something that I do that is just for me.
10. God can (and will) use broken. When you are in ministry and your family falls apart, you wonder how that will ever work together. You wonder if your profession and calling is over. But even in these months of healing, God has used this story to help and encourage others. I have been able to walk through this ugly with friends walking through the same. This summer I would guess 90% of the families that visited our kids’ ministry were single mamas. God has shown me over and over that He is not done with me. He is not done with my ministry. He is bigger and He will use all of this… every stinking, ugly piece… for His glory one way or another.
I could probably write nineteen more posts on lessons learned, but that is plenty. What lessons have you learned when walking through life’s struggles?