My desk is covered in papers and miscellaneous teaching supplies. Make-up work for two students – one who has been downed by a stomach virus, another who is heading to Hawaii for a family wedding – nearly slides off the edge. Psychedelic Kleenex box perches near partially-completed current event report and often-jammed stapler. Coffee sits precariously near very full agenda of to-dos. Hand sanitizer takes its place near empty water bottle and cell phone. Voices in the background discuss the Continental Congress and Shay’s rebellion.
Here I sit “in my own little corner / in my own little world” and give thanks. I’m tired. Nine credit hours of grad school and full-time teaching are taking their toll. But . . . still . . . I give thanks.
Next to my worn planner, hand sanitizer and phone, three and a half powder sugar-dusted chocolate cookies (I may have already partially devoured one) give testimony to a precious student with a heart of gold. A heart that has borne more pain than any 7th grader should have to endure. A heart that has wrestled with suicide, depression, and physical challenges. A heart that’s stood alone.
But this weekend, this heart reached out to me. In Saturday’s blog post “Deep Questions” (http://wp.me/p1Vsn8-6t), I shared part of an email written to me in hopes of learning my secret to happiness. Sobs, soul-searching, and hours later I sent a reply that though not perfect, communicated the truth from my Heavenly Father’s heart. The truth that we are not alone. The truth born of brokenness. The truth that brings life from thanksgiving.
As I passed that student in the hall this morning, a smile and a plate full of chocolate cookies were more than I could have asked for in return. A look of understanding – compassion some call it – passed between us before I locked this precious one in a fierce hug.
My afternoon is sweetened by rich cocoa chunks and the gift of an even sweeter child-turning-adult. I am blessed.
Below is the email that I sent on Saturday. I pray that my testimony encourages you, especially if you identify with the despondency and discouragement that I was addressing. May you receive comfort, as Christ is comforting me.
Dear Precious One,
Tears ran down my face as I read your email. I am humbled and honored that you have seen Christ in me the last couple of months. If you only knew the depths of depression and anger that I had sunk into this year, then you would also realize what a miracle my joy is. Many days I have felt anything but joyful. I want you to know and understand the truth about me, because it is only in that truth that you will also be able to find joy and contentment. Although this email might be lengthy, I mean every word from the bottom of my heart.
When I was 12 or 13 years old, I was diagnosed with Hepatitis C, which is a disease which slowly shuts down the liver, poisons the body, and kills the patient. I contracted this disease at birth. Stunned, I had to wrestle through my fears. Thanks to the faith of my parents, I came to believe that God would heal me and had a purpose for my life. Within a year I found myself on a mission trip in Russia where I was almost daily sharing my faith with Russian students, many of whom were older than me. I told them that I still had a hope and a future (despite the disease) because of my relationship with Jesus Christ (Jeremiah 29:11). Eight months later I was miraculously healed. Current blood tests don’t actually show that I ever had the disease.
When I was 16, my grandmother suddenly died. We had a very special relationship, and I experienced loss and grief like never before. Yet, even in that circumstance, I was able to find something to be thankful for. My grandmother became a Christian on her death bed. However, I am still struck by intense sadness at times, as I miss her. I wanted her to see me graduate high school. I wanted her to see me walk down the aisle and get married. It doesn’t always seem fair.
As you already know, I graduated high school at age 16 and devoted myself to maintaining a 4.0 G.P.A. in college. I ignored friends and isolated myself from those who would have helped me cope with my homesickness. I found my identity in good grades and was afraid of what might happen if I enjoyed life. I had great plans for my life and didn’t want to do anything that might interfere with those plans. I drove myself hard in every area – academically, spiritually, and physically. It was during my freshman and sophomore years of college that I became anorexic. I felt that I needed to prove that I could be perfect in every way. Somehow, I thought my parents (especially my dad) and God would be more proud of me if I was thin and smart. I lost all joy and all desire to live. I couldn’t even remember what I enjoyed doing for fun anymore. In the depths of despair and anorexia, I was challenged by my dad to create a list of all the things that I used to take pleasure in . . . things like running on the beach, eating pumpkin pie, reading a good book, laughing with friends, loving. He then challenged me to begin to accomplish those things on my list and to allow God to restore my joy. I remember making a pumpkin pie, sitting down and giving thanks for it, and then crying. And eating. Slowly, ever so slowly, I recovered. Never again do I want to isolate myself the way I had done. Never again do I want to find my identity in grades or personal performance. Never again do I want to allow my identity to become wrapped up in the things that I am accomplishing. Colossians 2 meant a lot to me during this time, especially the verse that says, “I am complete in Him.” Nothing else – not grades, physical appearance, relationship with God – could make me complete. I am complete simply because I am a daughter of the King. My Heavenly Father (and earthly father) loves me for who I am, not what I can do. I would challenge you to make a list. Make sure to include the insignificant things and the important things that you have loved doing in the past.
However, my story is not over. Two years ago my 16-year-old friend was brutally attacked by a man. She turned to me for help, and I spent hours and hours on the phone with her, comforting her and reminding her that her value had not changed in God’s eyes. However, my anger at God began to grow and grow. How could He let something like this happen? How could He not protect her? How could He actually be a God of love? My joy was sapped from me, as my questions grew and grew. In the midst of this situation, I also found out that I may never be able to get pregnant. I was crushed. This was the final straw. I wanted to be a mommy so badly, and this didn’t make any sense. Why could God let this happen? Why didn’t He just heal me? I had days that I didn’t talk to God at all. I had months where I couldn’t cry. I had no more tears left.
I wish that I could tell you that I have found all of the answers. I wish that I could tell you that God has healed me. I wish that I could tell you that my friend is doing well. I have nearly given up. I certainly gave up hope. I had waited for a miracle for so long and been constantly disappointed. My faith evaporated along with my contentment.
As I type through my tears, however, let me share the secret of what I am learning. Joy, hope, and contentment have nothing to do with whether or not life makes sense. Rather, they have everything to do with whether or not I am willing to relinquish control of my life and let God mold me into the person that I am supposed to become. It is not an easy lesson.
In the Bible when it says that Jesus broke the bread and gave thanks during the Last Supper before His crucifixion, the Greek word is eucharisteo. (I think that your Bible class has been studying this word.) This word means table of thanksgiving. It also contains the root words “grace” and “joy.” Do you realize that this means that Jesus Christ gave thanks for the situations that were about to bring Him incredible, senseless pain and brokenness? However, even with betrayal and the cross before Him, He offered thanks and then gave His disciples grace and joy. He still gives the same grace and joy. However, we have to learn to give thanks even for our pain and brokenness. We have to learn to give thanks for what is versus focusing on what is not. (To read more about some of what I am learning, go to this link https://acupofbliss.wordpress.com/2011/11/01/changingmyquestions/ and read a blog post that I wrote a little while ago.)
I am still an amateur at giving thanks. I want to be a mommy. I want to rejoice without feeling any pain. However, I am learning contentment in surrendering myself to the hard lessons in life. I’ve never been left alone. Through these hard times, I’ve been comforted by my Heavenly Father. You comfort me, as you see my surrender as something beautiful. Often, I just see it as difficult. There are days that I breathe more prayers of desperation than I do prayers of praise.
God does answer. He does perform miracles. Right now, the miracle that He is performing is the restoration of my joy. He is allowing me to see and give thanks for all the small things and to trust Him with all the things that I do not understand.
God wants to answer you. He says that He is near the brokenhearted. You will dance again. Maybe not like you danced in the past, but maybe in a completely different fashion. Maybe He is now trying to teach your spirit to dance. Can you imagine how beautiful that would be? Try to give thanks for everything that is good and everything that is painful. Don’t be fake. Tell God how angry you are or how sad you are. Tell the people around you. In the next breath, tell God that you want to learn how to find joy in what is breaking you apart. He was broken for you. He died that you might have life. Choose to LIVE fully.
I love you so much.