Two weeks ago, while we were traveling somewhere between Southern California and Salem, Oregon, it hit me: we had passed the six month mark since I lost my job. January 16th has become an important date in my life -- an anniversary of sorts -- that marks a shift in my personal walk with God, the start of massive change/uncertainty and a season of intense growth. So on July 16th, six months after “you’re fired,” Traci and I reflected on all that has happened during this time.
When you experience a significant life change, time seems to pass at different a pace. In one sense, it feels like January 16th was years ago: a lot has happened to us in the past 181 days. We’ve driven across the country twice, logging more than 20,000 miles in our already aged van. I’ve slept in 30 different beds across 18 different states, and Traci has traveled half-way around the world to minister in Thailand. We’ve learned to live even more simply, and how to accept the grace, kindness and generosity of others.
This time has been a life-changing experience for our kids, too. They’ve had to say goodbye to schools they’ve been with the past two years, pack up all their belongings into a storage shed and had to “tag along” for a ride into the unknown. We’ve comforted all three of them at different times, cried with each them at other times, and watched them grow during this period of faith-stretching, too. All of us have been part of this journey.
Through all of the struggles of being jobless and homeless, through the challenges that come with trusting God and waiting for Him to reveal the next step, our whole family has been changed. God has become bigger to each of us, and without questions, we are all learning to walk in a renewed and strengthened faith. As Traci and talked about life six months after God changed interrupted our lives, here are a few observations we made.
First, God’s ability to provide has far exceeded our needs on every level. When I lost my job on January 16th, I was given six weeks to move out. That means on March 12th, we, literally, became homeless. And yet, since that day, we have never been without a roof over our heads, and we have never missed a meal. God has opened doors -- house doors! -- to provide shelter, beds, kitchens and basic comforts for all of us. We have lived in the city, on a lake, in the suburbs and in the country, we have house-sat vacant homes or lived in the company of dear friends and family. Every time we’ve needed another place to live -- God has met our need.
Second, we've learned that God is a lavish provider. In a lot of the circles I’ve grown up in, I came to understand that faith in God meant He would meet your basic needs and that’s it. Somehow I took away from sermons, missionary stories and fellow pastors that God was in the bare-minimum business, and not in the lavish gift-giving business. God has grown in my life these past six months, and maybe in this area more than any other. He has been so lavish with my family, and He has shown that He doesn’t just meet needs, He lavishly and generously pours out more than our lives are able to contain.
In Psalm 23 David wrote, “You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings” (23:5). Notice that David’s feast occurred “in the presence of his enemies,” in other words, during the tough seasons -- the seasons when he was being pursued or challenged. But God showed up during that time and David describes God’s goodness like a feast, like a Thanksgiving meal, and says, “my cup overflows with blessings.” During our tough season we have feasted on the goodness of God and have seen, first hand, that He doesn't just meet the bare-minimum need -- He fills cups to overflowing.
Third, we’ve learned that our desire to grow is best met in challenges. Last October Traci and I ran our first half-marathon, and -- obviously, we didn’t know what was going to happen just three months later -- we knew the run was a metaphor for life. One of the big lessons I wrote about was the fact that you don’t get the medal that says you finished, unless you complete the race.
For us, that meant months of training, beginning while the snow still covered the ground. We ran when the roads first made an appearance in April, and we ran in downpours and drizzly afternoons in June. We ran in beautiful weather along Northern Michigan farms, and we ran in stifling heat and humidity in parks, roadways and big cities while traveling for my job. Running a half-marathon is hard, and receiving the joy of finishing requires months of hard work.
Likewise, growing in your faith is hard, but the resulting spiritual and personal change is worth it. Traci and I have longed to see some big dreams become a reality, and during this season, God is preparing us for the reality of those big goals. Does it hurt? often. Is it fun? occasionally. Is it easy? rarely. Is it worth it? always!
Finally, Traci and I have come to understand that our kids have to experience this for their good, too. Honestly, this might be the hardest part of the journey, and the burden I feel the most. It’s one thing to have your own life or marriage impacted by outside influences, it’s another thing entirely to watch it spill over onto your children. For years, though, Traci and I have prayed for their faith, and for their individual relationships with God, and we are seeing amazing growth in their lives, too!
Those times we’ve prayed with them, and for them, those times we talked about God-sized goals, and those times we’ve dreamed together as a family -- those possibilities we’ve talked about are beginning to take shape through this trial. To pray for change and growth and dreams with our children, and yet to try and “shelter” them from this hardship is a disservice!
Just as Traci and I realize our greatest growth occurs in the shadow of hardship, our kids’ greatest growth will occur as they see how Traci and I navigate pain and change, and as they learn to work through it themselves. During this season, more than once, their faith has lifted Traci and I when we were running low. And every time they see God answer a prayer, provide for a need or show up in grand fashion, their future lives are being shaped in ways that wouldn’t occur without hardship.
While I can’t honestly say I want the next six months to be anything like that past six months, I can honestly say I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything. If you’re going through one of these season, I want to encourage you to reflect on how God is showing up in your life. For me, the more time I take to see His fingerprint in all of this, the more my faith is strengthened even in the face of extreme uncertainty. I'm confident if you look for God's hand in your hardship, you'll experience growth in your faith, too!
Go ahead and take the plunge, life is always better on the water.