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.

Are you crazy?

Why give birth naturally? Are you crazy? I have gotten this response a lot lately. Its surprising and eye opening. I have now given birth twice. The first time with an epidural and the second time without any medical interventions. It wasn’t an easy decision. I must be honest, the moment that the nurse came to me while in labor and asked what my birth plan was…I paused. I had a chance to cave. I knew I wouldn’t be judged for it either. I was incredibly tempted at 6 cm to call this thing and get the epidural. But then I opted out and just looked at the nurse and said through near tears “no meds please”. She almost said “are you sure?”  I am glad she held back.

So how did I come to this decision? I knew after giving birth to my first that I would investigate this natural childbirth more in depth. I am one of those strange people who are interested in pushing the body to do what it is supposed to do and as women, we are created to give birth. I started my research by watching a documentary called “The Business of Being Born”. If you are pregnant now and interested in this process then I highly recommend this documentary. It gave me the confidence to believe that I COULD do this. If all of these women did it, then why couldn’t I? I wanted the raw experience because I will never be doing this again…so why not give it my best shot? After all, as a society aren’t we a little too quick to pop a pill when we feel any pain? I know I was. My husband just laughed when I told him I wanted to do this naturally. Then he realized I was serious. He knew my threshold for pain was very low. Well, that’s what I thought about myself anyway. I decided to challenge myself in a way I never have before. To make this body work like it is supposed to. It was one of the best MOST PAINFULLY FULFILLING decisions I have ever made.

As women, giving birth naturally can be one of the most emotional experiences we ever have. You are bringing a child into the world. Your body, for 9 months goes through an enormous upheaval and your comfort level decreases monthly. I am not one of those women who enjoys pregnancy. I will just get it out there. I would consider having another but the idea of pregnancy again makes me physically ill. It probably sounds at odds with the giving birth naturally. Aren’t you supposed to glow for 9 months? You are supposed to be serene, happy. Like an Earth Mother. You smile and only have to push once. Well, that’s not me. But I can’t complain about it. I am keenly aware that there are women who find out they can’t have children or struggle with infertility. They would trade places with me in a minute. So for that fact alone, I don’t talk about my disdain for pregnancy but for the purpose of this blog I am trying to give the whole picture and be honest about the experience. Even though I have these feelings about pregnancy, I can’t say that the end result isn’t worth it. It is. I am in love with my children. Now, back to the birth thing…I decided to use the 9 months to prepare for the idea of giving birth naturally. I looked at the positives and the negatives and the only negative that was in the “Natural” column was this: incredibly painful. If you think about it, that really isn’t a negative. It is just a decision you make based on how you deal with pain. When I was pregnant the first time, the epidural was a given. It is what you do these days. Most women choose it. You are in the majority if you get one. The thought of doing this naturally wasn’t on the table. I was so scared of the pain that I didn’t even want to consider doing the other. But isn’t that just like life: we don’t do what scares us the most for fear of the unknown? And why do it when you have the option of drugs?

With my second child I started to question all of this. I started to think about why we choose not to experience pain anymore. We don’t have to, right? If you have pain there is probably a pill for it. With my husbands battle for sobriety, I began to pay attention to the prescription pill addiction battle that is taking place right now in this country. Its not surprising to me that it has reached epidemic proportions.If the doctor prescribes it to you, then you should take it right? More and more we hear of celebrities dying from overdoses on prescription medications (usually pain killers are involved or the mixing of a sedative) and the numbers of women overdosing is surpassing that of men. I hear stories about moms taking Xanax, Klonopin, or Ativan to be better moms and how many stories of addiction start with “I went in for surgery on my back,knee etc and….”. My husband works at a mission for men with substance abuse problems and says that 1 out of every 3 men that comes in is addicted to some kind of prescribed medication. So why is this country in such a crisis with prescription drug addiction? I believe they are easily accessible and overly prescribed. I wont say that doctors all overprescribe but they are part of the problem. Some are becoming more diligent and regulating but at the tragic expense of many casualties that have lost the battle with addiciton. What scares me the most is that we are so afraid to feel pain that we don’t know how to get through life without a pill for whatever ails us. And for that matter, if the drug companies were in the business of making us well then they would, in effect, go out of business right? I am not saying all of this to point to a conspiracy but what I am alluding to is that we are ill equipping ourselves and our children on how NOT to deal with life. We have created an expectation that all must be good all of the time and if isn’t then there is a pill for that. The younger generations are not being told to deal with things. They are handed magic pills to help them study longer or not be sad or not have anxiety or pay attention better or get thinner. We are moving toward a society that won’t know how to deal with life in its raw form. It is a life without consequences for our choices. I am not an evolutionist but I do believe that we adapt. The tragedy is what we are adapting to.

SO am I really crazy for wanting to experience childbirth in its natural state? I chose this route to see if I could do it. To see if I could work through the pain. And I did it. It gave me incredible self confidence of what I can endure. The human body is an amazing thing. Our tolerance for pain (physically) is much more than what we give ourselves credit for. If we take away the highs and lows, the emotion, the sadness, the pure excitement and joy, the peaks and the valleys then we are missing out on the great human experience! Just this morning I heard Greg Laurie say to leverage your pain, don’t waste your pain (he was specifically talking about the pain of loss) and physical pain is a great analogy for mental pain. When we experience pain, both mental and physical, we learn to lean on God. C.S. Lewis said “Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say “My tooth is aching” than to say “My heart is broken.” There is no pill for our heart. There is only one prescription for our heart and that’s Jesus.

http://offlabelfilm.com/

– Entered into the world naturally on April 19, 2013-

4 days old