Updated: Dec 4, 2020
Grateful musings on the unavoidable comingling of joy and sorrow this side of heaven.
(or how to be grateful when stuff is really messed up.)
Life can be hard. And beautiful. All at once. Quite. It's taken me a long time to see and accept the uneasy tension between awful and amazing...in myself, others and life in general. Maybe longer than average. I only abandoned "all or nothing" when my emotional energy tank finally ran dry. Somehow, I always managed to picture either an unsullied happy ending or a miserable conflagration. A really great person or an evil monster. Not the infinitely more common yet sometimes baffling comingling of exquisite loveliness and crushing flaws that is life, that is me. And you. Life has schooled me, as has God. I'm learning how to hold this truth in my hands and heart and trust God with it. Mostly.
One case in point.
A few months ago, giddy with delight, I reported that I'd been contacted by a prospective buyer of my house in West Virginia, which I lost in the bankruptcy related to my former business, MightyLytes. I was thrilled that this woman, Katelyn, had done some digging and discovered my business, my writing and my story, and was herself the mom of a little girl with Down syndrome. What are the chances?
The failure of my sweet business, inspired by my son Isaac, and the long, acrimonious and scary dispute with my early investors and finally, my bankruptcy, had been tough. REALLY, really tough. So the idea of Katlyn and family landing in my lost house filled me awe and joy. How very like God, I thought, to redeem something so totally effed up.
Katelyn made an offer, but the trustee never responded. After following up repeatedly and waiting for a reply, Katelyn bought another house. Later, an old friend from West Virginia told me her daughter was interested. That sounded sweet, too. That never materialized either. The house sits languishing while the file sits languishing on somebody's desk. No magical happy ending after all. At least not as I pictured it.
Silver lining or not?
Still, there's absolutely no denying the story isn't finished yet. Plus, even now, I can see upsides. The house had foundation problems we thought we'd remedied, but it seems they may have gotten worse since we left. We're not talking worse as in cracks in the basement walls. We're talking worse as in the not-so-funny comic-strip of the living room suddenly landing in the cellar. Maybe God spared Katelyn and her family. Or maybe some greedy magnate will buy the beautiful land, mow down the flowering shrubs, and build a 12-pump gas station or dollar store. Or maybe the person who will ultimately get the house will be someone who will be blessed by it in some other way. Or it may just sit there, getting overgrown like so many rural properties. Don't know.
I do know that I don't have the burden of a house that may well be unsellable at this point. A symbol of a painful chapter decisively closed.
Sometimes we get to see the silver linings or happy endings. Sometime we don't. That's where faith comes in.
Another case in point.
MightyLytes itself showed so much promise, all dashed on rocks. A great idea, a super product, a positive mission, a zealous, hardworking and reasonably competent business owner (me) and dedicated team...Over its lifespan, there were so many auspicious developments. Several special needs catalogs picked us up, selling out on amazon international in five European markets, getting on walmart.com, Gymboree showing an interest, plus, plus. And yet it ended badly. Surely not a unique outcome for any small business, but I'd been so hopeful, I'd worked so hard. And the bad ending wasn't just bad. It was a series of conspicuously awful and destructive twists that made no sense at all.
A prayerful post-mortem with God did reveal some contributing factors that could account for the blaze. I could see that in nanoseconds, the business had morphed from a small, livable, mission-focused basement project to a greedy and grandiose life-sucking enterprise the moment I accepted money from the investor. (There's a cautionary tale or twelve in there.) My fear-fueled, self-righteous resentment of the investors' failures fueled a destructive tirade with public officials, lawyers, and the media. A toxic stew that could produce no good fruit and poisoned the whole darn thing.
Yes, I can see it clearly now, but couldn't see it then. Perhaps had I handled it differently, leaning into God and what I knew to be right by His objective measure, the outcome would have been different. Maybe not. That too, underscores the dichotomy of life and humans. An otherwise loving, caring and deeply faithful person, in the grips terror, I went totally off the rails. Fear and anger can do that you know. Even on a global scale. Once you allow it a foothold, it takes on a life of its own.
Finally, I can see now that had I let it go instead of battling the inevitable, I would have spared myself and others some needless pain. Years of it. (There's another lesson or twelve.) There's the fact, too, that success might have cost me several years with my kids: Years I could never replace. However, whatever. The result of all my thrashing with God was freedom, having faced down the enemy and survived. That's the promise.
This messy mix isn't new.
I think of Biblical Joseph. Totally screwed over by his resentful brothers while he was admittedly acting the entitled, naive golden child. Sold into slavery where he nonetheless excelled, wrongly accused by the boss's sleazy wife, lands in jail, catches Pharaoh's eye, rises to the top, and saves the day, including said brothers. But only after vengefully letting them sweat. A lot of good and some pretty bad. God used it all to accomplish a greater good, growing Joe up in the process.
Let's talk about David, a man after God's heart. Brave, beloved and loyal, bedded his devoted soldiers' wife, had him killed to cover up the baby, and was remorseless and oblivious until his friend Nathan pointed it out. Yikes. Talk about dark side! In that case, David suffered some hard consequences for his moral derailment, but just as often, there seems to be little justice this side of heaven. Regardless, David remains an enduring example of "a man after God's own heart" and is in Jesus' family tree. Nobody redacted the icky bits of David or his story to make him a more attractive hero. We have him as a hopeful example of God's affection for screw-ups.
On the other hand, I routinely witness unaccountable events in my own life or the lives of others. Here and there, I've shared the series of mini-miracles that have graced my life these past few months, leaving my slack-jawed with wonder at God's hand in my life. Back in August, cohabating with my estranged husband, stuck by Covid, I felt a persistent and heartfelt conviction he had to move out, even though I had little income and few prospects despite months of job-hunting. It made no sense from a practical standpoint, but I felt it lacked integrity and was increasingly destructive to him, to me, and to our kids. I finally leapt.
There was a much better quality video of Whitney singing this, but it seemed to me that she was already very lost and a long way from home <3. RIP.
The very next day, my son's school called to offer me a long-term substitute teaching position--not a living, but a start. Within two weeks they moved me to a role that allowed me ample time to job-hunt and write--and I got another Guideposts assignment. Within a month, just as my divorce was to be final and I'd lose health benefits, I was offered a job teaching high school English seven minutes from my house, with full benefits, a living wage and hours that allow me to pick up my boys from school. I have very little experience teaching, but God seems to be equipping me supernaturally, not only to teach them, but to love them and help heal them during a particularly difficult time. And while I briefly feared it would interfere with my writing, what I'm teaching is enriching and inspiring my writing. Only God.
In spite of global catastrophe and a few of my own, 2020 has actually been an amazing year, also inexplicable but for God. Harvesting the spiritual fruit of a few rather lousy years, I felt supremely serene and full of joy and inspiration. I channeled it into writing and a daily Facebook live program, 4 O'Clock Faith. The onset of quarantine and the ensuing widespread unraveling seemed to highlight my deep and sweet sense of freedom, seemingly at odds with difficult circumstances. Apart from Covid, my ex-husband and I were both unemployed, were living under the same roof with our divorce pending, our two kids at home round the clock...In retrospect, this wasn't really all that inexplicable.
Walking through a few years of intense misery (peppered with happiness and forward movement), often on my knees, has yielded the fruit God promises in the trifecta of trouble: Romans 5:3-5; James 1:2-4; 1 Peter 4:12-13. Really, all the misery I've endured has delivered a great capacity for delight and mega-endurance. Hell, I eat pandemics for breakfast. Aside from my childhood woes, those early months with Isaac, my business growing then failing, contentious negotiations, the lawsuit, moving to Florida, and eventual bankruptcy, the long, hard run up to divorce...all delivered priceless dividends. The very dividends God promises to those who endure suffering hand in hand with Him It's real, people!
God can do that, you know. Cuz He's God.
Bobby Kennedy quoted Aeschylus in his impromptu eulogy the day Martin Luther King died, only two months before his own assassination. Yes, sometimes we can imagine ways to make sense out of all the sometimes confounding contradictions of life. The unhappy endings, the delightful and dastardly detours, the dashed hopes, and miraculous solutions. We can trace a line to connect the far-flung dots that lead to a particular outcome. Other times, we can make no sense whatsoever of the way things happen. Life can seem brutally random and unfair.
A friend of mine's life was shattered by the tragic death of her 26-year-old son a few years ago. Healthy, fit and full of life, he drowned while playing a game of hold your breath after suffering heart failure due to an undiagnosed heart defect. A woman of faith, she struggled to make sense of her son's sudden death, particularly in light of having already just endured a miserable marriage and damaging divorce. In the midst of searing pain, she met the love of her life, a devoted man who showers her with love even now. While there's nothing to offset the pain of losing a child, the unique euphoria of being in love was profoundly comforting, while unspeakably at odds with her grief.
I often talk about how learning Isaac had Down syndrome was physically and emotionally painful in the way only grief can be. Yet at the same time, I felt enormous love and a unique tenderness for Isaac, along with a mysterious sense of hope. Still, I concurrently wrestled with feelings that God was downright cruel and unjust to give me a child with special needs after a difficult life. Now I say it over and over: Isaac is top three best things that ever happened to me.
The mysterious alchemy of a God that can turn take-downs into triumphs. Cuz He's God.
Stevland Hardaway Judkins Morris was born prematurely and became blind as a result. He was raised in Detroit by a single mother of six, a songwriter. He started singing and playing various instruments early, and was discovered by Motown at age 11. They dubbed him Little Stevie Wonder.
The ultimate antidote.
When the lousy stuff happens, many of us set our jaw against God, wondering where He is in the mire, even though he told us this world would always be a muddled mess, along with sunsets, love, puppies and great music...or whatever makes your heart sing. We can embrace the whole kit and caboodle, or we can fret, relentlessly question, suffer more than necessary, and miss out on so much good stuff.
The Remedy to all the wonder, wailing and worry is faith. Simple, child-like faith. Not figuring it all out, but gratefully handing it all over to a God who can reconcile the debits and the credits in unexpected ways.
Now and later.
Turns out, real joy is found not in the absence of trouble or the abundance of blessings, but in the One who overcame it all. He enables us to deal with the realities of this perfectly imperfect life with surpassing peace, joy and yes, the awful grace of God.
Happy Thanksgiving and lots of love,