How can it be that one day your life is full of purpose and good relationships and then, in an instant, your world turns upside down? How can you hold on to what you have dearly loved and then lost? How do you move forward?
The last two days I have been traveling on my first official road trip with my seventy-eight-year-old Father. He drove from Tampa to Indianapolis, with a stop to pick me up in Alabama, on his way to his sixtieth high school reunion! What a special time of bonding, reminiscing, and healing it has been as I have been so blessed to finally have a perspective on answers to these questions.
In the Desert
Over the past few years, my life has been consumed with change, most of it completely unwanted. Seven years ago started what I eventually called my ‘Desert Experience.’ It was an extended and excruciating period of isolation and loneliness. As our kids began to move out of our home, I became focused on how to survive my new phase of “empty nesting.” During this time, I was dragged away kicking and screaming from our home of twenty-four years. I was physically and emotionally heartbroken.
To pile on all of this adjustment, we lost my mother a year ago. The devastation of this moment still takes my breath away. Arriving in new and unfamiliar territory and struggling with feelings of depression and loneliness, the loss of my mother seemed too much. I succumbed to the overwhelming tides of change. I felt like Moses after he left his comfortable life in Egypt and settled in the desert for forty years — hungry, tired, weary, and lost.
Facing New Beginnings
Watching my dad grieve the loss of his wife of fifty-four years has been extremely hard. This first year has been painful in so many ways and he wants to move forward, but he is finding it difficult to heal. It really doesn’t matter what, how, or when you say goodbye — when you are forced to turn the page and begin again, it can be incredibly painful. In those moments, it’s easy to feel like you are the only person going through unpleasant changes; however, in reality, new beginnings are a part of everyone’s life. Some changes in life occur when we are young while others are sprinkled into different seasons of our lives. Some we can control, but most are out of our hands.
When you leave a familiar place, job, or lose a person or relationship and have to start over, you realize how you’ve built your identity around the comforting and familiar. Upon my move, I was so uncomfortable. I longed to have friends that I could go to the mall with — just to be around people. To add misery to my pain, my fourteen-year-old golden retriever was diagnosed with cancer. She was going to be my companion and comfort in this unfamiliar place and then even she was gone. I had no kids, no familiarities, and no loyal canine companion — those were certainly uncharted waters!
God began to strip me of the things I had built my life, my identity, and my happiness around. The hole in my heart grew bigger as people, activities, commitments, and volunteer work I had participated in for so many years were nowhere to be found. Then, when my mom died, I was left with a shell of who I thought I was. Though the knowledge of my mom’s salvation and presence with God reassured small parts of me, grief continued to abound.
The Way Out of the Desert
My pity party was out of control to the point that I soon realized even the depth of my own grief was becoming an idol. Instead of turning to the One who could restore me, I chose to remain paralyzed, grief stricken, and sad. But even in my rebellion, I knew God would ultimately have to be my resting place, my refuge, and my strength.
Floundering in my heartbreak, it became clear to me that as much as I didn’t want to accept it, I was depressed. I knew that the Lord could help me and maybe I was expecting some miraculous snap of His fingers; instead, He used my doctor. Because of the stereotypes against medication, I struggled with feelings of failure for needing pills, but I soon became thankful for the helping hand that they offered. It allowed the haze of my depression to be lifted so once again I could see the sunshine.
God’s Word Truly Heals
One day in John 5:1-17, I read the story of the man who had been paralyzed for thirty-eight years. He was lying by the pool of Bethesda waiting for someone to carry him into the pool to be healed. Upon seeing this man, Jesus asked him if he would like to get well. This was the BIG question and the question that I had to ask myself…did I really want to move forward and get well? The paralytic answered yes and Jesus healed him for his faith.
This story challenged me in every way. By God’s word, I realized that I could stay paralyzed in my situation or choose by faith in Jesus to continue healing. I was tired of always being sad and lonely — I wanted to heal. This revelation was a pivotal point in starting over as His word redeemed my wounded soul! As my heart began to change and I chose to trust the Lord, I felt empowered to move on and make the best of the new chapters in my life.
Humility… A Step Forward
Looking back, I know that God had to strip the idols of comfort and stability in my life to get me to draw closer to Him. My former life was overfilled with meeting needs of everyone and everything else that those quiet moments were hard to come by. He desired more time for me to be still and know Him. Though the process was painful, there are now times when I am actually thankful for the ‘Desert Experience’ and the resulting closeness with Christ that it has brought me.
God does his best refining when you are at your weakest. The process of preparing you to hear God’s true calling on your heart and life can be painful and humbling, but the results will ultimately draw you close to Him in sweet communion and prepare you for the road He has for you. Even Moses had to learn how to humbly submit, not to what he wanted, but to trust in the sovereignty and goodness of God. God humbled Moses from his status as Pharaoh’s son to sheepherder, which was quite a drastic change, to prepare him for his most important role and true purpose in life — leading God’s people into the land they had been promised centuries before. On a smaller scale, since I’ll likely never be called to part the Red Sea, God also had to humble me and take me out of my comfort zone to do the things for which He created me.
In His Hand: A New Beginning
What are you struggling with? What changes have come into your life to rock your world? No matter what the source of change in your life, He has a new beginning for you. When you walk by faith into the unknown, God will be faithful. He leads you according to His purpose as you trust Him more. God will be with you as He rebuilds your life, renews your heart, and teaches you how to place your identity firmly in Christ — where it can never be shaken.
You may be saying goodbye as God closes a chapter and begins a new one in your life. I hope you will not waste your desert years. I hope you can experience God in incredible and powerful ways and have Him write your own story of His faithfulness in your life. I hope you learn to embrace new beginnings, enjoy a more vibrant relationship with the Lord, and let God lead you. Besides, He always writes better stories than the ones we try to write.