Philippians 4: 6-7
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."
I used to envy people who were strong and brave; those who could withstand any trial because they knew that God was in control and that they were under His constant and loving protection. I envied their devout faith and the inner peace which shone from their faces, as if a light glowed from deep within. Always positive, always cheerful. Watching in awe how they effortlessly navigated the world, never letting the little things in life get to them, and facing the big things with steely determination and grace, caused me such feelings of inferiority. This envy never ceased to make me wonder. How had these curious creatures gotten to that elusive place of true happiness and gratitude? How were surrender and trust like second nature to them? Being around such people was frustrating as I longed to be in their shoes for just one day; to swim in their joy and feel God in such a visceral way that doubt in His love and direction never dare show its face.
And then I became one of them.
The bottom fell out of my secure and comfortable world in December of 2016 when my husband lost his job. I worked as a preschool teacher and he had always been the breadwinner. Our situation made me feel quite vulnerable and scared, but my initial instinct was that God had a plan and that we would be alright. We had been through this before and though it had been a trying time, we had survived intact. When we lost our savings and our retirement, I continued to trust that God knew what He was doing in our lives and that things would turn around. I had my moments of quiet fear, where I would cry and beg God to reverse our situation. When we were forced to sell our house just so that we would have some cash and a reprieve to assess our situation, feelings of numbness and despair began to take root. Yet, I continued to trust. Surely God had seen my faithfulness and heard my pleas. We had been made to suffer enough. Sunny days were on the horizon. I could just feel it in my bones.
Yet, in the midst of all of our loss, the disease of alcoholism, an insidious interloper that my husband had tried to keep at bay for decades, came roaring in with a vengeance, stealing away the funny, brilliant, kind and sensitive man I had loved for twenty-six years. I had been so obsessed with trying to keep our family together that I hadn't noticed how sick he had become. I no longer recognized the stranger who had been sharing my life; a man who had been transformed into an angry, bitter shell of a person. But, I had made a vow and no matter how ugly things got, I was going down with the ship. I anointed myself savior of my husband, and at the time, I was certain that the humiliation of our situation would knock him into his senses as surely he had hit rock bottom.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
If it were possible to love away the sickness and pain within a person, my husband would be a well man today. However, all the love and patience in the world proved powerless over his addiction, and in the end alcohol won. I realized all of my desperate attempts at changing my husband were fruitless. Outside of his obvious issues, it was me who needed a change. You see, God knows me extremely well. He knows my heart and knows that I don’t quit on people, even when no one in their right mind would stay. He also knew that I would never leave until everything was gone. He would literally have to pry every single thing from my life; everything I clung to with immovable stubbornness. He did just that. We could no longer afford rent. Separation became our only recourse.
With our son away at college, my daughter and I moved into the spare bedroom at my sister's house. Her wonderful husband and children welcomed us with open arms, never once hesitating at the arrangement. Their grace and love allowed me to instantly feel as though an enormous weight had been lifted and I could breathe for the first time in ages. It was there in the office nook, inside an incredibly warm and loving home that I began to nurture myself back to health, mentally, physically and spiritually; reconnecting with God and growing in my relationship with Him where there were no threats and bribes, just total honesty and surrender.
Sometime into my stay at my sister's, I went to visit my husband in rehab. He was on his fourth treatment program in as many months and I was feeling wary, to say the least. But something seemed different that Sunday morning in late August as I walked into the small chapel on the premises. Instead of the depressing somber scenario I imagined, I was met with the glorious sounds of gospel music as men of all ages and races stood, shoulder to shoulder, dressed in suits provided them by the center, singing loudly and basking in the intense feelings of brotherhood which enveloped the atmosphere. Something powerful was at play. Though I was surrounded by what had to be unimaginable brokenness, I sensed none of that. Rather, pure joy and hope flooded the building, filling my soul with an indescribable peace. Gone were the emotions of anger and confusion. Fear had vanished. By the end of the service, I walked out of that chapel irrevocably changed, a different person than when I had entered. Surrendering all of my cares and worries, I placed them at God's feet, leaving them behind in that A-framed building. And, in that simple act of release, my heart overflowed with enormous thankfulness.
Gratitude had found me in a place of deep loss and pain, replacing the envy which had once consumed me.
When I let go of my worries, I released my husband and placed him in God's hands; hands much more capable than my own. Though he is currently homeless and still held captive by a disease I may never understand, I no longer allow his actions to control my thoughts or feelings; instead praying that he will one day know the peace I have found. Every morning I awake and I am grateful for another day on this earth to live and discover my true purpose. I no longer regret the past. I wear it as a badge of honor, for it has grown me into the woman I am today; a woman I love and respect and who is much stronger than I ever gave her credit. I no longer fear the future, for it is a beautiful mystery which God will reveal in His own, perfect timing. Now, as I look into the faces of my two incredible children, who were created in love, I am overcome with gratitude in my certainty that they know their worth in God's eyes. When each day has come to an end, I climb into bed and fall asleep counting my blessings, naming the precious human angels who have shown our family enormous care and compassion and helped us in ways we will never be able to repay.
I have yet to finish counting.
Additional Scripture: Jeremiah 10:23, Psalm 34:18
Let us seek and praise You always; in our sorrow and in our joy, for You are ever present, walking alongside us, grieving with us and celebrating our victories. Let us be ever mindful of your many gifts and provisions, praising You and using those gifts for good. Let us never forget that it is You who gave us life and You who created in all of us a wondrous and unique creature capable of shining in an often troubled world. Let us be a grateful light in the darkness, so that all we encounter may know the love and peace of the Lord. Amen.