I have been reading all the thankful posts this month on Facebook. It got me thinking about all the great things in my life and how thankful I am to be so blessed. Well then, that got me thinking about the difficult, tragic and ungreat things which have happened in my life. Those are the events which most often emerge as memories when I am trying to fall asleep and cause me to feel regretful or sad. I hate those times. Coming to terms with the painful parts of life is a long and difficult process and it can be a struggle to be grateful for those events. It's only when I start to get past the pain and sorrow I can admit the worst times of my life were the times I grew the most as a person and a human being. I never would have learned the lessons I learned about myself and about life if I had never struggled.
Lately I have been feeling unusually down. I was trying to put my finger on the source of my depression. I have a new job I really enjoy and that pays the bills. I am teaching English at a university part time - definitely the most rewarding part time job I have ever had. I love it! My kids are doing well and are all happy. I am looking forward to hanging out with my girls Thanksgiving weekend. I really feel blessed by the church I am attending. I have more friends now than ever before in my life. Life is good, so why have I had this nagging sense of sorrow? When I finished beating myself up for experiencing an emotion I had no right to experience (yes, that’s sarcasm) I finally landed on the source of my depression. Of course! It is November and November is the anniversary of my sister Debbie’s death. There is no denying it - that ranked as the worst experience of my life.
Until Debbie died I sailed through life blissfully unaware of true pain. I remember a conversation with one of my friend’s whose world was rocked by a very painful experience at a point in time long before Debbie died. She was trying to describe for me what she was going through and she said she had so much pain in her heart there was no room for one drop more. She mentioned how people would try to talk to her about their lives and the things that were hurting them and she would just look at them and feel no empathy at all because she was saturated with her own hurt. I didn't understand what she meant then, but the morning I got the call about my sister, I fell to the floor crying and discovered an ache which was so overwhelming I didn't think I would ever be able to move again. For three years I lived in a fog and it didn't matter what other people were going through; I couldn't find it in myself to care. What I discovered when I came out of the fog, though, and began to feel again, was a new Rhonda.
That horrid experience opened my eyes to suffering around me unlike any video or moving testimony from somebody else ever could have. I realized hard and painful truths about myself and how judgmental I was when other people were hurting. I realized the importance of stopping my busy life completely to try to be there for other human beings. I began to look at people who suffered with a mind and heart ready to serve them. For the first time in my life, I was moved to the point of action by other people’s pain. My relationship with God changed, too.
I knew more about Who He is when I emerged from three years in the valley of suffering than I learned in the twenty years I was a Christ follower before that. I saw clearly how arrogant I had become, expecting only good things to happen in my life because of my relationship with God. I learned how to treat others who suffered and how NOT to treat them. I also learned my faith was deeper than I knew and God is faithful to His promises. I’m not going to lie, before Debbie died, I was grateful for my tragedy-free life and secretly relieved my faith had never been tested in that way. What if I proved to be a weakling? What if the fact I suddenly appeared not to be blessed and protected caused other people in my life to lose faith? After all, only good things come from God, right? So how could I explain a tragedy? I learned the most invaluable lessons while in my fog of sorrow.
First, my faith was stronger than I knew. Day after day the only place I found comfort was on my knees crying and sobbing my pain to God. I felt a deep desire to speak at Debbie’s funeral - yet didn't know how I would get through. For one brief moment when I looked out at the crowd and my family, many of them weeping and shocked to find themselves there, I faltered and tears threatened to overwhelm. I bowed my head and said a silent prayer and the tears went away, courage emerged, and I spoke words that came not only from my heart, but from a loving God Who had comfort and wisdom for the people gathered at the funeral.
I discovered many people around me were touched by inexplicable tragedies of their own. As I talked to people and heard their stories, I realized they became interested in God from seeing my faith during deep sorrow, more so than they ever could have from my charmed life before. I didn't have to explain or make excuses for God because tragedies are part of life. I didn't have to have all the answers or live in a perfect world, I simply had to allow God to work despite my circumstances.
That’s really what it is all about, you know? I never would have thought I could be grateful for such deep suffering and I will always miss my sister and wish she hadn't died, but despite that, I do have to say, I like this Rhonda far better than I ever liked the other one. And that is something to be thankful for.
Romans 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Such truthful words.