Finding Joy In The Trough

It’s been a tough year in our family. No way around that.

I retreat when I’m in a process. I reflect. I withdraw. But then I let things slowly start to flow out, when I’m ready to say things without becoming a mess of running mascara and quivering lip.

We’ve been faced with some of the toughest moments in our marriage due to health related issues, employement changes and some other tough stuff I never saw coming. My husband has been sober for almost 8 years now and I can only guess it was time. I forget this though. The Lord is always preparing us for what’s next whether we realize it or not and for the last 8 years He has been putting purpose into the small, ordinary and big moments of our lives to prepare us.

I confess that I secretely believed I had “paid my dues” in the early days of this sobriety journey with him. I thought, “Ok, this is it. This the hand I’ve been dealt”. Wrong. SO so wrong. I pridefully sat on top of the mountain and declared we had made it through thinking we could just coast in with medals for overcoming. Oh how misguided Leigh to believe that God was done with you! This confession proves the necessity for spiritual growth in myself.

He’s not done stretching me, our marriage, our parenting and our life as a whole. He will never be done until our last breath so thinkining this can be dangerous for the mind. Your time card getting stamped doesn’t exempt you from heartache, the trenches…the trough. But figuring out how to be joyful in this season has been my greatest challenge.

We are admittedly in a trough and I’ve been chewing and mulling over this post for months now thinking about how to say this, how to bring our current circumstance together into one neat spreadsheet of cause, effect and this is what we’re working on now. I don’t have a spreadsheet or a playbook but I do have scripture and C.S. Lewis. Recently, I picked up the Screwtape Letters again. I realized I picked it up because I needed a new perspective. I needed to not see what was happening in our life daily and what I was laser focused on with health problems we have been navigating. The whole book leaped into my arms like a gift.

If you’ve never read The Screwtape Letters it’s worth the short read. The context is a senior level demon (named Screwtape) writes letters to his newbie demon nephew named Wormwood. Screwtape is giving him tips, insights into how to do this job well, getting these humans off track, distracted, broken down so that there is no way they can truly believe in the enemy (God).

In one single excerpt from Screwtape’s letter I recognized what I was in the process of:

“Now, it may suprise you to learn that in His (Gods) efforts to get permanent possession of a soul, God relies on the troughs even more than on the peaks; some of His special favorites have gone through longer and deeper troughs than anyone else…It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that it (the human) is growing into the sort of creature He (God) wants it to be…He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there, He is pleased even with their stumbles.” 

(Side note: Of course Screwtape goes on to discuss how to exploit these moments of our lives. My answer to this: Dear Screwtape, You lose. Move on. Thanks, Leigh)

I know this. I am aware that with every blow of the chisel He is shaping us. I guess I just wasn’t expecting this blow of the chisel. It came in from the back. What I’ve been getting over and now through are the feelings I can’t avoid and have to process: The why’s, the what’s, the how much longers?

What I’ve determined is this: I don’t know. I don’t know how much longer, I don’t know why and I certainly don’t know what. But I’ve had to shift my focus onto what I do know, the hopes that I can rest in, and the truth that directs my and my husbands life.

Finding Joy in this place, despite the circumstance, has been the greatest challenge. I want to throw the covers over my head and come back out when we are on the other side of this tunnel but my faith, my husband, my children, my coworkers and everyone around me deserves more than that from me. They should be seeing someone who despite the circumstance can laugh, can engage with life, can face the music, puts one foot in front of the other and pushes forward WITH joy.

Heres the thing about deciding to follow Christ: It is not easy. In fact, its really really hard. I know, I know. I am making this real appealing for non believers but I’m not one to paint a false picture. If you come into Faith with knowledge that this going to be hard but incredibly worth it and entirely skip over the “this is going to be hard” part then you won’t have full understanding. You WILL get more than you can handle. You WILL be heartbroken by people of the same Faith who let you down and break your spirit, you WILL have moments that you will think you can’t take anymore, you WILL want to cry in the closet and run away, you WILL be incredibly disappointed by dreams that take new shape. This is the bad news. But the reason for all of these “WILLs” is to show us our lacking, our depravity, our weakness, and reveal areas of self-reliance.

But here’s the good. I always save the good for last because this is why you jump over the fence, put your feet on the ground and then put one foot in front of the other:

In a dirty, lacking, and broken trough many centuries ago a sweet baby boy was born and He changed our outcome forever. 

That’s the JOY in the trough. Jesus is the only reason to keep moving forward. He is hated by the Wormwoods and the Screwtapes. They fear Him because they know the truth and  truth is something Screwtape and Wormwood can never offer. The truth that He can carry us through the valleys, increase our strength (Isaiah 40:31), lead us beside still waters when we walk through the Vally of the Shadow of Death (Psalm 23),  and rescue us when our spirits are crushed (Psalm 34:18). All we have to do is just stay on course and keep our eyes on Him. That’s it.

In the movie Chariots of Fire Eric Liddel gives a sermon after winning a race. He uses the race as an analogy of faith much like Apostle Paul does in the New Testament and I love the way that Eric used this analogy to speak to the audience who came to see him run:

“You came to see a race today. To see someone win. It happened to be me. But I want you to do more than just watch a race. I want you to take part in it. I want to compare faith to running in a race. It’s hard. It requires concentration of will, energy of soul. You experience elation when the winner breaks the tape-especially if you’ve got a bet on it. But how long does that last? You go home. Maybe your dinner’s burnt. Maybe you haven’t got a job. So who am I to say “Believe, have faith,” in the face of life’s realities? I would like to give you something more permanent, but I can only point the way. I have no formula for winning the race. Everyone runs in her own way, or his own way. And where does the power come from, to see the race to its end? From within. Jesus said, “Behold, the Kingdom of God is within your. If with all your hearts, you truly seek me, you shall ever surely find me.” If you commit yourself to the love of Christ, then that is how you run a straight race.” 

I cannot argue with this truth because God has permanent possession of my soul and I believe that we are in the race of our lives. This last year has sidelined us and our commitment to help people going through addiction recovery but I felt like it was time to share the message that you will get sidetracked, sidelined, sideswiped but what’s important is to recognize what’s happening to you.

Keep your eyes on the baby in the trough and somehow, outside of yourself, find TRUE Joy in the midst.

Have a Merry Christmas Friends.

Potemkin Village

In 1787 while on a journey through newly acquired territory in Crimea, Catherine the Great toured a section along the Dnieper River with Grigory Potemkin, one of Russia’s highest military officials. Catherine was unaware that Grigory had set up fake villages along the River to fool her into believing that this section of Crimea was prospering.

While having a discussion with my husband about putting up facades, my husband recounted his time going to Pigeon Forge on weekends when he lived in Knoxville (almost a decade ago). He said he would pass by these large ornate theaters which always seemed out of place or too much for their surroundings. Curious to see what was inside and expecting the grand exterior to be reflected on the interior, he was surprised to find a small metal warehouse like building behind the large facade.

People are good at creating facades. All you need to do is go on Facebook and you will get the best version of everyone. You can untag yourself from less than attractive angles of yourself (I am totally guilty of this!) but you can’t untag yourself from realities of life. We are stuck with ourselves and our situations however not appealing or attractive that may be.  I was an expert at hiding my husbands addiction and pretending everything was ok. I realize now I wasn’t just fearful of people’s perceptions but I was also in denial of the horrible situation created by his addiction.

You can only keep the facade up for so long before people start knocking on the door. Then they find the exterior isn’t aligning with the scary interior.

I have spoken about transparency before but I feel more urgency now with our need to reach out and be honest about our struggles. We are worried about what people might think if we confess what’s happening in our lives but even more worrisome is coming face to face with the problem and what the fallout will look like. You ask yourself questions like “will my friends think less of me if they knew? What will this mean for our family and what will have to change? Will we have to get counseling? Will my spouse have to quit their job and go into treatment? Should I consider Divorce? What do I do?” Its a very helpless feeling. I have been through the seasons of denial but then it all started to unravel. I couldn’t control it anymore. I couldn’t control his drinking anymore. I couldn’t take the keys away again or worry about being out in public and feeling the embarressment. I couldn’t do IT ANYMORE. I was exhausted. I was running out of clever excuses and ready for him to deal with this addiction and frankly didn’t care what anyone thought or what might have to change in our family. I WAS DONE. I called my family and close friends. You see, when you give it up to the Lord you find out what true surrender means.

I’ve given my testimony a few times in the last few months and each time I am reminded about what the Lord did for us in that horrible time of our lives. How gently He guided us out of this facade we had created and gave us a new life. A fresh start. Free from the bondage of this delusional control. Light was now on the lies.

God knows whether we drink everyday or drink too much too often, or sneak that pain pill, or creep onto the computer for pornography. He knows when we tell people for the 10th time that our spouse isn’t feeling good when in reality they are hung over and laying on the couch again. He hears the excuses we give and the things we are afraid to admit. But He patiently waits on us to come face to face with our truth. He is ready to hold us through it. I have lived with secrets. I have held up the appearance. I have told myself the lies: “it’s not that bad” or “it could be worse.” The lies will consume you.

Your truth is this: It is that bad. It is a facade and it will get worse.

It will be painful to be honest about it. It will hurt your family. You may have to go through treatment or therapy. You may have to confront your spouse or family member. But taking that risk of the outcome is far better than continuing to live in this facade and believing this isn’t your life and this will never happen to you. I can easily say that when I stopped worrying about what others thought and started focusing on what I needed to face, I felt an amazing sense of strength. A willingness to be vulnerable is far easier than the exhaustion from hiding a secret life. Be authentic, face it, and knock down the facade. You might be surprised by how people respond to your honesty but more importantly you will get to know God through these circumstances and see Him do all that He has promised.

2 Corinthians 12:9-11

9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

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