One year ago, I was driving home from school with Ellie and Caleb giving me the run-down of their day, what homework needed to be done, and what we had going that evening. It was the normal routine, except I was trying to hurry home to make a birthday dinner for my oldest who woke up a teenager that morning. I turned down our gravel driveway and was almost to the house before I noticed something odd. When I got to the house, I could see that the garage was open. Weird. My stomach sank, but maybe Bart just forgot to close it earlier?
As I dialed to call Bart, I noticed the door leading from the garage into the house was also standing wide open. Something was not right here and I began to have the first moments of panic settle over me just as Bart answered. I sat in the car and quickly explained everything to him. Only then did I glance into the house through the door frame to see an empty space on our wall right where our gun cabinet used to sit. At that moment I was finally able to process the obvious reality that someone unwanted had been inside of our home. Unsure of whether someone was still in our house or not, especially since the door was standing wide open, Bart implored me to get out of there immediately. The kids started to cry and my brain got foggy.
Within 10 minutes, my Mom arrived to get the kids away from the scene and Bart arrived home to assess the situation. The police were on the way, but before they got there, we wanted to check things out. How much damage had been done?
Long story short, intruders had made their mark on our home while we were at work that day. Not only was our ENTIRE gun safe taken, but our master bedroom had been ransacked, and all of our electronics had been jerked out of the walls and gathered up as well- including our TV’s, DVD player, xBox, ipads, chargers, laptop, etc. As bad as that was, the very worst was the violation we felt at the clear evidence of someone uninvited going through our home and our things while we were at work.
Our kids were now scared, our possessions were missing, Isaac’s birthday dinner was ruined, and we couldn’t even stay the night in our house to wait for fingerprinting the next morning. It was quite a curveball and a big bummer. A part of me wanted to be so bitter at the situation- at God. If He is sovereign and all powerful like I had believed Him to be, how could He let this happen to us? And here we sat in this season of life, already trying to cut expenditures, as we worked toward paying adoption expenses- trying to walk the narrow road of a calling from God. Why us? Why now?
Only 5 fast weeks later was the last day of school. Ellie had been extra tired lately and overall didn’t seem herself. So Bart took her to the pediatrician. We thought she was sick, but we didn’t expect her doctor to send her straight to the ER with sky high blood sugar levels. We never anticipated a diagnosis of Type 1 Diabetes, a stay in the pediatric ICU, an ambulance ride to Riley Children’s Hospital, and more nights spent in the hospital.
Life changed so quickly for our family, for Ellie especially. We went from being a family who rarely visited the doctor at all to a family with insulin pens in the fridge, pen needles and test strips strewn about the house, and a never ending routine of carb calculations and insulin injections. We are regulars at the pharmacy now and Ellie will be for the rest of her life: dependent on insulin. A new kind of unwanted normalcy has enveloped her. Thankfully, kids are resilient and Ellie has accepted her lot in life as a diabetic for the last 11 months, but it’s still less than ideal. Yes, it could be worse, but it is no less a form of daily suffering in this life.
Why do I tell you these 2 stories? To get your sympathy for our family and make you feel sorry for us? Hardly. We all have stories like this. They all involve different sets of circumstances and people. Some are public and some are hidden away. Some smack us in the face unexpectedly and others creep in slowly to change our path in life. Quite honestly, I tell you this because writing helps me process life. And also because these 2 events last year were effective, controlled fires in my life to refine my knowledge of the character of God. I hesitate to write about it because it’s a scroll of lessons that I’m still unrolling in my own life. I assume I will be for the rest of my life.
When we come out of the quiet waters of smooth sailing in life and run into a tumultuous sea of inconvenience or suffering, a common knee jerk reaction is to question the character of God. Am I being punished? Has He forsaken me? Has He forgotten me? Why does it all seem so unfair sometimes? We want the stormy seas to go away as quickly as possible and life to return to its regularly scheduled programming where we are comfortable, healthy, secure, entertained, prosperous, slaying goals, and winning the approval of men all around us.
When these negative reactions come out of us during life, it is a blessing. It is a revelation of the ways we have not ingested the Word of God into the fiber of our lives. It is a revelation of the ways we have made this world our home instead of treating this life like the temporary dwelling place Jesus told us it is. It is a revelation that we have bought into the lie that poverty, sickness, suffering, and death are the worst things that could happen.
If we call ourselves followers of Christ, then we should have an increasingly transformed outlook on those times of suffering that we are called to walk through in life. They don’t have to be seasons of “hunker down and survive”. Instead, they can be seasons of expectation, fellowship with Christ, deep growth, and transformation toward glory. When we lean into these truths, trials don’t have the power to paralyze us in fear, but they bring the hope of refining for what’s to come.
First, we would be wise to grasp hold of the truth that times of suffering will come. Peter tells us, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” (1 Peter 4:12). But is that the norm for us, as professed believers? Don’t we act surprised, frazzled, panicked when an inconvenience is thrown at us or when we find ourselves walking through a time of trials? Rather than reacting with a spirit of grace and peace, having lived with a right expectation that fiery trials are a necessary part of this life, we often complain and spiral out in fear as if something foreign and strange has interrupted our perfectly orchestrated, comfortable life.
When our house was robbed, gospel truths were available for me to run into to help me remain steadfast and full of peace and joy. My flesh tugged on my mind to feel panicked, fearful, and angry that someone would trespass on our property and take our possessions that we have worked hard to purchase. And it would be normal for my worldly flesh to react that way. But as someone in whom the Spirit of God dwells, I was reminded that Jesus warned me not to make my home or those things my treasures.
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. Matthew 6:19-20
Taking hold of this truth, knowing that Jesus warned me that thieves might break in and steal our things- even in the path of following Him- helped to steady my thoughts back into a peaceful resolve to continue trusting. So maybe a robbery is a reminder that those things, and even my home, are not worth treasuring. No matter how well I take care of my home and the things in it, they are all such temporary investments. As we watched the tragic burning of Notre Dame this week, I was reminded yet again of just how temporary the things of this earth truly are. Maybe Jesus was giving us an object lesson to protect us from investing even more deeply of our time and resources into things that won’t last. Maybe He was using thieves to help us invest into a greater kingdom.
“you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.” Hebrews 10:34-36
Second, we can learn how to lean into them as opportunities for transformation instead of viewing them as fires to sprint through. What if suffering through refining fires in life is a necessary part of what transforms us into the likeness of His image? Would we still want to stuff it down or dash through it? Or would we want to receive the inconveniences, curveballs, and fiery trials as opportunities for our very souls to become better reflections of our Creator in this life? If we never suffer, do we ever transform?
As we look at the cross this Easter weekend, we can see this truth come alive. When we consider our present or future opportunities to suffer, “let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)
Within this example of our Savior, we see that Jesus didn’t deny the reality of the cross. It was despicable, painful, shame filled, and the most horrific cup to bear. But He showed us the way to endure in this life. We look to Him and in Him we see how to peer through the portal of suffering into the future grace ahead. Jesus endured for the joy that was before Him- the glory His grace in the salvation of mankind and redemption of humanity. He knew that the path to the glory was only through the cross- through the suffering. The glory only comes when suffering is endured. Not stuffed and masked under a bandaid. Not sprinted through. Endured: suffering patiently. And the same is true with us. If we want to experience the transformative power in our humble misty lives, then our path ought to be filled with suffering of many kinds.
“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” 1 Peter 5:10
Finally, when we expectantly receive our times of suffering as opportunities for transformation, I think we can expect that the trial will produce something necessary to a good and beautiful life.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4
Of course, it’s no fun to walk through times of testing. Jesus pleaded with His Father in heaven to let this cup pass from Him. And the reality is that we are invited to do the same. But the ultimate goal is not necessarily to just get to the other side of the test….its to let the trial make you perfect and complete. The fiery trial is meant to produce something in you that hasn’t yet existed.
What if, because of the fear of pain, we avoid trials or blindly sprint through them and completely miss the main productive purpose those circumstances have in our life? What if it’s not the person who suffers the least in this life that is truly blessed, but the person who is a submissive student in the schoolhouse of suffering?
Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. James 1:12
And listen to the words of Jesus to the church in Smyrna in Revelation 2:10, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.”
If our compass for truth is only found in the culture around us, we will not learn to endure suffering. We will NOT find the encouragement we need to remain steadfast under trial. God’s Word is the only source of hope and peace we can truly run into when we are thrown into the tumultuous seas of suffering. And we must run to that anchor of truth over and over again, helping us to be patient as we wait for the work of God to manifest in our discomfort.
For me, one of the hardest parts of this call to remain steadfast under trial is when the trial involves my children. I think it is in the nature of most loving parents to do everything in their power to protect their children from hardships and prevent them from going through distress. In my experience and observation, this can look like anything from enrolling our children in a handful of activities in hopes that they will finally find a niche that brings them confidence, to running to rescue and cover up the mistakes of children to save their reputation in the eyes of the community, or even taking them for retail therapy to ease the pain of a hard day. We, as parents, will go to great lengths to help our children sprint through seasons of adversity or mask their pains with bandaids to distract.
I first began to process these thoughts on my drive to the hospital where Ellie was admitted last year for her diabetes. As I wrestled with God over the struggles Ellie was facing and had ahead of her, I could hear my negative reactions, the lies I believed about the character of God, rising up inside of me. They were dross, coming to the surface in this fiery trial. My flesh reaction was a desire to somehow take control of the situation. How could I make this trial less painful for Ellie or how could I get us to the other side more quickly?
As the Spirit of God has done a work on me from the time of that drive over to Evansville, to even this day, with yet another daughter facing even greater medical hardships ahead, my knee jerk reaction has begun to shift. Rather than feeling such dread and avoidance about the various kinds of trials my children will be called to walk through– medical, friendship, loss, setbacks, disappointments, insecurities, rejection, or any other variety- I can choose to see those as opportunities for transformation that my children might be counted among the blessed in God’s kingdom.
Truly, if WE don’t learn how to suffer well, how will we ever teach our children to do the same? And if our children don’t learn how to courageously face up to all kinds of suffering and patiently endure it, then how can we ever hope that they will become adults who are “mature and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:4) Furthermore, if we are always looking for ways to prevent and protect our children from experiencing adversity, won’t we also be blocking the entrance to the portal through which their lives will transform into His glorious image?
Once again, all we need to do is look to the Word of God. Our Father in heaven is the perfect example of a parent, a good Father in all His ways. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”(James 1:17) He is the actual giver of every good and perfect gift that we receive in our lives. He gave us the gift of our very lives and the gift of our salvation out of His own will.
But He also ordains that we go through suffering, for our good. He can see the glory on the other side of this life that we can’t yet see. He wants us to desire that better and lasting kingdom over this one. He wants us to be mature and complete, not lacking in anything that would hold us back from investing our hearts in the better reward. He could have taken the cup of suffering from Jesus and circumvented His Beloved Son’s disgrace and shame. But He didn’t and we praise Him for loving us so lavishly. One day that mystery will be revealed to us when we see Him on His glorious throne and we will not question that our suffering here delivered in the kingdom of His glory.
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. Romans 8:18