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If social media had been around in the early 2000’s I might have been a poster child for a #blessed life, but it proved to only be the eye of the storm. Life was good. Joyful. Fulfilled. I had a wonderful husband and had recently quit my job to stay home with our son. I had a church that I loved. My family was healthy. God had brought me through a season of suffering from chronic pain and mental health issues. He had been faithful and even though my life looked nothing like I had planned or expected, I was still overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude and blessing. I spent hours praying, studying, and meditating on Scripture. I started helping out with the women’s Bible studies at our church. As I watched other women learn God’s word and incorporate it into their lives I felt a thrill of joy. I felt like I had it all. I was #blessed.
The Other Shoe
In 2006, though, we adopted our younger son, Mischa, from Russia. Some of the chronic pain had returned during the adoption process and it gradually increased in intensity as we settled in. As our family navigated the physical challenges I was facing, Mischa started Early Intervention services, but he just wasn’t catching up. After numerous doctor’s visits and tests, he was diagnosed with a genetic disorder associated with significant cognitive, developmental, and speech delays. As his therapy ramped up, so did my pain. Eventually, the depressive side of the bipolar disorder that had turned my life upside down a decade earlier began to nibble at the edges of my life again and finally came back with a vengeance in late 2010. Despite medication and therapy, I hit rock bottom—or so I thought. Then came God’s silence. His deafening silence.
Fingerprints and Whispers
On the far side of the next seven years I can look back and see God’s fingerprints; I can hear the echoes of His whispers. I’d love to say that there were moments when I knew that my Father was carrying me. But honestly, in the middle of the storm all I could do was tie a knot at the end of my rope and hold on for dear life. And God seemed silent. I would only recognize those echoes on the other side. He was distant. The joy I had found in His presence, in His word, in prayer, and in worship vanished. In spite of it all, though, I clung to my faith with everything I had—because God was the only One who could fix the disaster area that my life had become. Some of it was because of my choices, but some of it was due to things that I had no control over.
Eventually, with wise counseling and medication changes, I re-stabilized. The bipolar disorder was once again under control. I kept praying. I kept reading my Bible. I kept going to church. I tried to be the best wife, mom, and friend I could be in spite of my brokenness. But that deafening silence continued. Eventually I came to a place where I was just going through the motions.
As time passed, it became crystal clear that me being a stay-at-home mom to a special-needs child wasn’t working for any of us. Mischa had started elementary school and it was time to make a change. It’s funny to look back now, because the decision-making process seemed so logical at the time. What do I like to do? How could I combine my passions with an ability to contribute to our family’s income? What did we need to do to make it happen? At the time I didn’t realize it, or at least I couldn’t sense it, but God was working behind the scenes.
God may have been working, but my husband and I just kept taking the logical next steps. We decided to move again. One of the greatest joys in my life had been teaching Scripture. While I hadn’t led a Bible study in several years, I still remembered the joy of helping others to know Jesus better and walk more closely with him. Coming from a conservative tradition, though, entering church ministry didn’t seem like a viable option. On top of that, it seemed like a poor choice since God and I didn’t exactly seem to be on speaking terms right then. But I might still be able to teach the biblical languages or Bible study skills. I could contribute in some way to helping others know God better.
Going in I knew that some people called seminary a cemetery where faith went to die and while I wasn’t attending a seminary, I did enroll in a graduate program in Biblical Exegesis. Close enough. And I was starting in what could only generously be called a spiritual dry spot. My prayers focused: Help me keep my faith. Meet me here. Eight years later I can say with complete peace and confidence that He didn’t just answer those prayers. He surpassed my meager and desperate hopes. The silence continued, but God surrounded me with loving communities. They have affirmed my gifting, encouraged what I now understand is God’s calling, and continue to help our family walk through our everyday challenges. These people became God’s fingerprints and whispers until the silence started to break one quiet August afternoon in the mountains of Utah. But in those quiet years God had shown me how He was taking my life—which had been turned upside down—and using it to turn my understanding of Jesus and faith upside down.
Life Beyond #Blessed
Those silent years may have seemed like a spiritual desert, but life had been full in spite of it. Mischa started to talk and now he’s even reading. My oldest son graduated. He has gotten married and had a son of his own—and you and I are simply going to agree that I am too young to be a grandmother. I finished a Master’s degree and our family moved again, this time so I could pursue a PhD. I’m almost done and have started teaching students about the tremendous blessing we have in the Old Testament. (Yes, you read that right.) We moved yet again. This time to provide more opportunities for Mischa.
God seemed distant, but every now and then I would see a fingerprint. Looking back, they’re everywhere. Eventually I started to hear the echoes of whispers. Not the whispers themselves, but enough of a hint that I had hope. It was like a spring thaw. Cold, but sunny. Huge snowbanks around the driveway, but in the sunny spot of bare ground you see the crocuses begin to bud. Hope.
The one constant through all of it has been been my husband, Casey. Through it all, I have always known how amazingly blessed I am to have him in my life. His love, sacrifices, and support are a gift beyond words. Feelings of failure sometimes still haunt me. But I know that he doesn’t see me that way. He sees me as I am. Broken, loved, and, by God’s grace alone, taking life one day at time. So no, #blessed doesn’t really describe my life anymore, if it ever really did. It doesn’t describe the way I feel about my husband. It’s too shallow; too cliche. No. Together we’re living life beyond #blessed.
Then Came Morning
“Turn on the TV!!” I did and was horrified. Notre Dame was in flames. I felt gut-punched. I felt this inexplicable sense of loss. So maybe it was fitting that it was Holy Week, because then came morning. I heard about the funds promised to rebuild and I saw that picture—the glowing cross hanging above the altar. I’m guessing that our reactions were slightly different, but I’m also guessing that they had similar themes. Hope. Jesus. Resurrection. Restoration. Rising from the ashes. I just stared at the picture. Not because of the loss, destruction, and hope for Notre Dame. No. That picture captures the story of my life. Or at least I hope it does. I hope and pray that instead of the brokenness and ashes, the people around me see the cross and the way that Jesus is slowly, day-by-day, transforming me into its shape.
This is my journey to a place beyond #blessed —and it is far from complete. I hope you’ll come along, because if the past is any indication it will be quite an expedition. Let me share with you what God has taught me in the silence and how Jesus continues to meet me in my brokenness. Maybe you’ll find some hope and we can learn on this journey together. But most of all, join me and let’s walk together into the future that God has for each of us. A future where He works in our lives to transform us into the glorious image of our crucified, risen, and ascended Savior. Turning it all upside down. Letting His cross shine among the ashes. Teaching us about life beyond #blessed.