God is working, even if it seems like he isn’t there.
When you’re in the thick of struggles, it is hard to keep thinking positively. It’s hard to keep your eyes on God, to believe He wants the best for you. I know. I am emerging from an incredibly challenging half decade.
Let’s do a quick recap:
First, a horrible relationship at the tail end of my college that left my confidence erased, my world shaken, and my heart broken. Then, four years ago today, I got pregnant with Stella. College ended like a crash landing in the back of a tiny airplane, and then the first year of motherhood exhausted me. Then I was a bride, and the first year of marriage felt like it would never end. It was pretty miserable–we were trying to build a solid relationship with very little foundation, and we had a one year old, and were states away from our familial support system. We were sinking into poverty, and in the second year of marriage not a single month went by when we could pay all our bills. We put groceries on a credit card. We finally swallowed our pride and got food stamps. We left our new home to move back to family. We had another baby and our expenses increased. We cut out everything that wasn’t 100% necessary, including our dear dog (don’t worry, his life is much better now, he is running on an 8 acre farm as we speak).
We still couldn’t pay bills. Our food stamps got cut in half and we were constantly relying on charity to get by. Each month we hoped that month’s check would us to catch up on bills, but the first of the month continued to be my “panic attack” day. My husband had 8 or 9 jobs those first two years, and each time we hoped we would be able to finally take care of our finances. He would look for better jobs, and through the application process it would feel like we were finally seeing a light at the end of the tunnel, but when rejection came, disappointment and depression would settle over us again. Clay and I decided the best option was for me to work, but I was getting job rejections also, and finding time to apply for jobs was almost impossible while taking care of two kids.
The point of this is not to be a sob story. The point is to help you understand that if you are facing marital troubles, financial troubles, problems with your children, struggling to come to terms with a hurtful past and painful present, I have been in your shoes. More importantly than that, I am here to encourage you: God is still working.
A Glimpse at my Flawed Theology
I went through all the motions with God as we struggled. I felt like it would never end. Some of the things I believed were good and true, and others were definitely flawed. I wondered if this was His plan for me: poverty and strife and hurt. I wondered if I was being punished, wondered if He had forgotten all about my family down here on little old Earth. I repented for ways in which we had not spent money wisely, not only because I wanted to do better, but because I desperately wanted to please God. I didn’t understand Him. Why was I experiencing this? What was He trying to teach me? Why wouldn’t He answer my prayers? I kept thinking that our lives would change when I learned the lesson God was trying to teach me. I believed those lessons were to trust God in everything, to depend on Him for everything, to understand that Jesus is enough (even if I have nothing else), and to wait on the Lord. I wanted to scream, “I’m trusting! I get it! I have learned! Now please rescue me!”
During Advent, I took the girls to visit the Perot Museum on a Sunday. I figured we could make a day of it and go to The Village Church in Dallas before. It was the perfect Sunday to visit. Matt Chandler was preaching on “the refining love of God.” The sermon had one main point: that God is at work in the mess. With every word Matt spoke, God was reaching into my heart and healing me. Listening to that sermon will help you understand how God ministered to my soul that day. With gentleness and care, He answered my questions: no, God was not punishing me. No, He had not abandoned me. He was establishing hope. He was teaching me how to rejoice during suffering. Not just endure, but rejoice.
A New Year
I was confident 2016 would be different. Clay had applied for a job at a home technologies company (salary plus commission), and I had applied for a great job at UNT. I wanted it so bad that I stopped looking for alternative employment, should it not pan out. It was like two pin pricks of light ahead of us in the darkness. Clay didn’t get his job, and now there was only one light, winking at me in the darkness, fading in and out as I waited.
January 1st rolled around and our paycheck was abysmal, yet again. For the first time, I wasn’t afraid. I did trust. I rested very confidently in the knowledge that God had carried us this far, and He would continue to carry us until He delivered us. He would provide practical, tangible answers to prayer as He had done countless times in the past–sacks full of groceries from a friend, an envelope of cash, a surprise gift card. Little ways he whispered (or shouted) I’m here. I am sustaining you.
So for the first time instead of freaking out, I encouraged my husband. I soothed his disappointment. I felt completely at rest no matter what the outcome of the next months, or years.
James 1:2-4 kept rolling around in my head:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
“It’s amazing to stand and reflect on where I’ve been the past couple years,” I wrote to my friends and family.
“Over a full year of living in poverty, two years not being able to pay our bills. Lots of debt, uncertainty, and hard times. But I am so thankful. Ha! Isn’t that crazy? Thankful for poverty! Thankful for having less than nothing! My relationship with God is so much deeper and more mature as I’ve learned to trust him with EVERYTHING. My relationship with my husband is better than it’s ever been. I am filled with gratitude for friends and family who have helped us survive. I am humbled, and full of empathy for other families who are caught in poverty and don’t have hope or help. James 1:2-4, I get it now. This horrible, dark, painful, hopeless, scary time has been a pure joy.”
On January 15th, Clay was offered a salaried job in insurance, and five days later, I was offered my dream job at UNT. In less than a week, we had tripled our income (not hard to do when you have next to nothing to begin with). Now we are rushing out of the tunnel, toward the light. As I started my job, my supervisor spoke candidly about the timing of hiring process, and I saw the whole thing through God’s eyes. His timing is perfect.
I have experienced a lot of redemption for the pain of my past, and the Lord continues to put soothing balm on my wounds. For a while, I regarded college as a miserable place because of how soul-crushing the end of my university experience had been. And still, God redeems my story, now through this job.
God does not promise us financial stability, or money to invest, or extra income to send our kids to private school, buy organic food, or decorate our homes like Pinterest pictures. But what he does give us is far greater. Access to Himself. Grace. Salvation through His son. God is my hope, my provider. He sustains me and lifts my head when I become consumed with my surroundings, my suffering. He answers prayers. He is faithful and His promises are real. He grows us, heals, and redeems. He continually works in us and for us, even when we feel like He is nowhere to be found.
Two years ago, I asked God to teach me what it means to live simply. Now I know. It’s Jesus.