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This past Sunday, I began a new preaching series on suffering, loss, lament, and trust. In light of this, some brave men and women of NewLife will be sharing their own stories of learning to trust God through suffering in both the Pulse and by video on Sundays. Today’s guest writer is Amy Swanson, who also blogs at http://thisbelovedwarrior.wordpress.com.
Pastor Eric recently made a request for testimonies of learning to trust God through suffering and loss. A hard ask, but one I hope we can rise to because the faithfulness of God appears in so many forms and fashions. And I believe it is through the telling of these stories, even the ones longed to be forgotten, that others can find comfort, assurance, and maybe even a step towards healing.
That is my prayer, anyways, and what leads me to share my story.
The following testimony may come as a surprise to those that know me, personally, to those used to always seeing a smile on my face! But I very much relate to the “man of sorrows, acquainted with grief” described in Isaiah 53 verse 3. My own experiences cannot be penned by any one example; I just know they’ve been there from the beginning.
I actually don’t remember much of my childhood. What I can tell you is that I grew up in a broken home of divorce, with my family having a history of depression and alcohol abuse. That tension is something I do remember. I also remember that we moved a lot (at least 7 times in my first 12 years.) I was often made fun of as the “new kid” in school who never had anything new or brand name. And I remember our red YUGO that had its share of duct tape under the hood.
Memories are funny like that.
Eventually, the dust settled as my father remarried and my mother got engaged. It was less than two weeks after that announcement, however, that my soon to be stepfather was killed in a hit-and-run. My mom quickly made the self-preserving decision to move with my sister and me back to CT. And though we had some family here, I didn't remember our initial move south; Florida was my home and my family.
Turns out, kids up north were way meaner than those down south. But I was an easy target with my frizzy perm and chipped front tooth. It wasn't long before I completely shut down and lost all will to live. The cold, dark, days of winter certainly didn't help matters (I am still not a fan!).
At one point I ran away, and on another occasion I tried overdosing on over-the-counter pain relievers. There were years of in-patient therapies and numbing medications, following my own crippling depression diagnosis in the 10th grade. For years, the only relief came by way of getting drunk or high.
Sadly, there are adults who prey on girls like me. I met one, who saw his opportunity the night of a neighbor's family wedding. I was there to keep an eye on the kids I regularly babysat, but was encouraged to drink, nonetheless. Then coerced to a back bedroom bathroom where this much older family member locked the door behind us.
How I wish there wasn’t more to tell, but a year later, my childhood came to a close with the call that my dad had died in a motorcycle accident. And as grateful as I am for the chance we had to talk on my 17th birthday, days prior, I wish I could remember our final goodbye.
Is it really any wonder that somewhere in all that I turned my back on God? Promises like Lamentations 3:22-23 were nothing more than lip service. It reads, “the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercies never come to an end, they are new every morning, great is His faithfulness!” A hard pill to swallow when my adult life hasn’t been easy, either. Some unfortunate events of my own doing, but many more at the hands of the broken world we live in. Thankfully, on most days, I do a better job at managing life with chronic depression and anxiety than I used to. Mainly because what I choose to focus on now is the working of God in the midst of my troubles.
John 16:33 comes to mind often. Jesus says, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
The thing is, none of us are promised an easy life. What we are promised is pain, suffering, injustice, disease, and death. The very things that led to my own gut wrenching cries for help and relief, even when I didn't believe anyone was there listening. Life has a way of bringing one to their knees, doesn’t it?
Matthew 11:28-29 has since proven true in my own life, with this plea to a hurting world, “come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you… and you will find rest for your souls.” It was at rock bottom that I came crawling to the author of these words. Initially, to the pages of my Bible, where I finally had to admit that I couldn’t do this on my own. And there He was, a heavenly Father, ready and able to pick up all the pieces, taking my outstretched hand, no questions asked.
I’ve since been given a new perspective. One that allows me to look back and see how even on the darkest of days, the God I had forsaken was there all along; willing to love me, willing to save me, and even protecting me along the way (many times over). No longer am I compelled to seek relief from the pain or stresses of life according to the fleeting measures of the world. And no longer is my peace based on circumstance or feeling. I've become increasingly grounded by standing upon the firmest of foundations; the Word of God. The only foundation able to withstand the rains, the winds, and the floods, guaranteed to beat against it (Matthew 7:25).
Beloved, there is great promise and great hope to be found in the pages of our Bibles, such as Revelation 21:4. Speaking of a day to come, it says, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” I think deep down, we ALL long for this to be true, because life is hard and no one is exempt. Personally, I can’t help but feel like it just isn't supposed to be this way. Particularly the early loss of a parent or child: it hurts too much, with a hurt that never goes away, and a love that can never be severed.
Ultimately, it was the loss of my own baby during pregnancy that made me realize our hearts and souls were never meant to love temporarily. I am now able to tangibly grasp at least one aspect of being created in the image of a God most high: a God who is portrayed, over and over, as not only hating injustice, but also having a love that endures forever. It was this experience of debilitating grief, without the net of destructive coping measures, where I was convicted of our design for eternal peace and everlasting love. The very things God freely offers and restores through His Son, Jesus Christ.
So I continue to testify that it is by His love I am off the pharmaceuticals I was told I'd never be able to function without.
It is by His mercy, we were given our love-bug of a girl, after miscarriage.
It is by His faithfulness, I could experience peace during the most recent season of unrelenting difficulties.
And it is by His divine providence that my mom, sister, and I were given a stability here in CT we had never known before. (Mom actually reconnected with her high school sweetheart, who provided us with a place to live, and got her a job... they recently celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary!) =D
With that said, it is by His divine sovereignty that purpose can be brought to any level of pain, grief, and sorrow. I have seen it over and over (and over) again.
May we all be encouraged, in the weeks ahead, to seek God in the midst of our experiences, and may we begin to recognize that all things can be used to draw us closer to Him.
To renewed hope.
To a peace that passes understanding.
To unshakable ground.
To love forevermore.
Words that once were like salt to a wound, now taste so sweet: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercies never come to an end, they are new every morning, great is His faithfulness!”
And that, my friends, is the very heart that turns any mess into a message and any test into a testimony.
To God be the glory!
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