Most of us prefer to share our battle stories after we’ve won the victory. This blog, however, began 2 1/2 years ago in the middle of my husband’s unemployment for a reason: sometimes we need to hear that God is with us in our darkest hour, when our strength is gone and yet the battle rages on. Are you fighting an uphill battle today, dear friend? Then may the God of comfort encourage you today as I share my journey with you.
A month ago, my mother had a very complex surgery to remove her sinus cancer. The 8-hr. surgery was successful, but less than 48 hours later she had a stroke. She has made good progress in her recovery, due to the prayers of a great many on her behalf. However, the healing process will likely continue for months, even years before she is able to return to a “normal” life. So when she finally comes home next week, she will continue to require a great deal of help from my family.
If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you know that I also homeschool my children, and have continued doing so while commuting to the hospital (and now rehab center) to be with my mom. This has required a lot of creativity and adjustment to our way of life. Since my husband works near the hospital, the kids have done their schoolwork in his office while I spend the morning with my mom. I then pick the kids up at noon and go to a park or do some sort of educational activity with them until my husband is ready to go home. Fortunately, my sister, dad, and aunt are also taking turns staying with my mom, so I only have to do this 2 or 3 times a week, in addition to weekend visits. On our days at home, I try to keep a regular school schedule for the kids’ sake, so they have some sense of routine in their lives. Add to all this the hassles of life that don’t stop just because you’re in a crisis, so we have car troubles, financial issues, kids who get sick and grumpy and still have dance class 2 nights a week, necessary preparations for when the care of my mom shifts from rehab to us…
Sound exhausting? It is.
Can we, as believers in Christ, acknowledge that life is sometimes really hard? Ever read the Psalms? Last Sunday, my heart was lifted in praise as I expressed my gratitude to God for his faithfulness and goodness to me over the last several weeks. He has prompted people to reach out with words of encouragement, prayers on my behalf, and meals for my family. God is good and worthy to be praised! But in a split second I was brought to tears at the sight of a gifted pianist, because it reminded me of the previous week when the therapist brought my musically gifted mom to the piano, and I watched her struggle to play it. My grief over how the stroke has robbed her of this gift that will now require intense effort to recover, spilled out as tears in the midst of my praise. King David did not hide his ups and downs from God – but poured them out in succession throughout the Psalms – and God called him a man after his own heart. Friend, we can praise God in the storm and cry out in grief at the same time. We have a tender Savior who does not tell us to buck up and dismiss our sorrow. He blesses those who mourn and invites the weary to come to him and find rest for their souls.
One thing I’m learning is that stroke recovery, like life, is not characterized by steady progress, but rather ups and downs. Over the past several days, my mom’s been on a downward trend due to an infection that undid much of her progress. She’s back on an IV because she just doesn’t want to eat, and was unable to write a single letter yesterday (although she had been able to write her name the previous week). Sometimes, it’s not the length of the battle that discourages us as much as the setbacks, when we feel we’re losing ground. We work so hard to save money, only to see it disappear to the repairman. We invest ourselves in a project that gets cancelled. Nothing is quite as discouraging as wasted effort.
However, nothing is wasted in God’s kingdom.
When I was on my way home from running errands this week, I got to the train tracks just as a train approached. Rather than wait for who knows how long, I turned around and headed back to take a different way home. Almost immediately, I saw a double rainbow in the sky ahead of me. Had I continued on my intended route, I would have missed it. But because of my setback, I saw God’s reminder to all of us that he keeps his promises. Sometimes our disappointments and setbacks are opportunities for God to reveal himself to us in deeper and more meaningful ways, if we’re willing to look up and be reminded of his faithfulness to us. We want our faith to move mountains, but sometimes our faith will only mature as we learn to persevere up and over the mountain. That’s why James encourages us to “let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:4).
Ultimately, God’s purpose in taking me up this particular mountain is to teach me how to persevere – by resting on him alone. My mother has always been one of my main pillars of support. She’s always been there when I’ve needed help. When my kids were little, she took care of them so my husband and I could go on dates and take care of our marriage. Once I began homeschooling, she took my kids once a week and allowed them to do their schoolwork at her house so I could attend Ladies Bible Study and have a break. (My dad is also a support – and I credit him as the one who has taught me to always see the positive in every situation – but he would be the first to acknowledge that my mom is usually the primary caregiver.) When it came time for her surgery, not only did I have to figure out how to juggle school and hospital visits, but for the first time in my life, I couldn’t call Mom to help. So I called on Jesus. Here is what he said:
“My child, you are looking at your life as a table that’s now missing one of its legs. You are grieving the loss of stability, and wondering how you can keep standing without that support. The truth is, you can’t – unless you will let me be the center pillar of your life. Like a pedestal table with one strong support in the center, I will hold you up. More people can be seated around a pedestal table, and so more will be served at your table when it rests solely on me.”
Then, the Holy Spirit reminded me of the promise he gave me last March, when my mom was diagnosed with cancer.
Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit. – Jeremiah 17:7-8
The tree planted by the stream does not need to fear the drought because there is always a fresh supply of water. But the tree must send out its roots to the stream. Our hope is not that blessings will rain down and take care of the drought. Our hope is in the One who is Living Water, who satisfies our thirst and supplies every need in the midst of the drought. I can honestly say I have never had to dig my roots down deeper than I have over the past month. Yet in the midst of the drought, I have seen fruit.
God has given me a supernatural patience and gentleness with my mom, as I help her do basic things like brush her teeth. And when I feel utterly spent after a morning of trying to encourage her, I take my crumbs of energy to Jesus and ask him to bless and multiply them as I spend the afternoon with my kids. I could easily justify taking time off of schooling during this season, but as I’ve trusted God to give me the strength to persevere, he’s dropped lesson plans in my lap and miraculously supplied resources. When I’m weary of cooking, he whispers, “Invite your daughter to bake with you,” and turns a chore into a relationship builder. When my kids are bickering and there is no babysitter to offer relief, he gives me just the right verse or illustration to instruct them. When the enemy tempts me to quit, God reminds me to send out my roots to the Stream, for he “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20).
When the battle is long and far from over, God is our strength. He is our pillar. He is our hope.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” – Romans 15:13