It’s All Good

Untitled design (2)

Living in a social media culture can be challenging. Post after post, we’re shown snapshots of people living their best lives. Vacation spots, bikini pics, graduation ceremonies, award celebrations. Not only do we feature our highlights, but we often filter them, causing them to look even better than they actually are.

I’m guilty of it, too. Well, definitely not the bikini pictures. But as a mom and author, I post the successes. You won’t see the messy house, pile of bills, and overwhelming fatigue. I don’t boast about one-star reviews, or feeling envious of others’ success, or the seasons of waiting.

But what if the lowlights are what grow our character most? What if our struggles and setbacks and the grind to overcome them are what God can use to not only help others but glorify Him? No one wants to go through hard times. But the reality is that life will have valleys as well as peaks, and something good can come from difficult times.

I think of Joseph – his story told in Genesis is one of the best known in the Bible, and some of his life’s events are also in the Torah and Qu’ran. Joseph was his father, Jacob’s, second to last child, and favorite. After Jacob gave Joseph a beautifully ornamented coat, his brothers became even more envious of him, and hated him. When Joseph told his brothers about his prophetic dreams, which depicted Joseph raised to a position higher than them, his brothers had had enough. They devised a plan to kill Joseph, but instead sold him into slavery to Ishmaelite traders. The Ishmaelites took Joseph to Egypt then sold him to one of Pharaoh’s officials, who was captain of the palace guard.

Though Joseph’s time in Egypt is filled with faith, success, and triumph, he also experienced betrayal and dark days. After being falsely accused of rape, Joseph was thrown into prison. But even there, the Lord was with Joseph. Using the gift God gave him, Joseph interpreted the dreams of two other inmates. All he asked in return was that the men remember Joseph and ask Pharaoh to release him. One of the men is subsequently killed, and the other man who is released forgets Joseph.

Two years later, Joseph’s ability to interpret dreams is remembered by the cup-bearer who had been in prison, and Joseph is called upon to interpret Pharaoh’s dream. Joseph says, “It is beyond my power to  to do this. But God can tell you what it means and set you at ease.” (Genesis 41:16) After Pharaoh tells Joseph his dream, Joseph says that God is telling Pharaoh there will be seven years of prosperity followed by seven years of famine. He explains Pharoah should appoint an intelligent and wise man to take charge of the land of Egypt to ensure enough crops are collected during the seven good years, stored, then disbursed when the famine befalls the land. Pharaoh appoints Joseph to that position, and he becomes the second only to Pharaoh in rank.

Through using the ability God gave him, Joseph is instantaneously lifted from prison to the palace. He’s given a wife, who bears him two sons. Joseph names the first Manasseh, saying, “God has made me forget all my troubles and everyone in my father’s family.” And his second son he names Ephraim, saying, “God has made me fruitful in this land of grief.” He acknowledges the hardship that befell him, put praises God for helping him overcome it.

Just as predicted, there are seven prosperous years followed by seven years of famine, which is felt throughout Egypt and the surrounding lands, as well. The famine also reached Canaan, and Jacob sends his ten sons to Egypt to buy grain. Though Joseph instantly recognizes his brothers, they don’t recognize him. Joseph puts his brothers through various tests, and when they prove they regret what they had done to Joseph and want to protect their younger brother and father from any further grief, Joseph reveals himself to them. He sends for his father, and Pharaoh allows Joseph to assign his family to the best land of Egypt to survive through the remaining years of famine. After their father’s death, the brothers fear Joseph will retaliate against them for the past. But Joseph says, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.” (Genesis 50:20)

I love this story because often the initial reaction to facing hardship is wavering faith. We wonder, why did God allow this? What have I done to deserve this? After my breakdown, I struggled to make sense of life. I felt like Joseph – betrayed, sold out, imprisoned. But, I remember coming across a quote that resonated with me. 

There is no situation so chaotic that God from that situation cannot create something that is surpassingly good. He did it at creation. He did it at the cross. He is doing it today.” (Bishop Handley Carr Glyn Moule 1841-1920)

I had no idea how anything good could come from the mess my life had become, but I clung to the hope that my suffering would not be in vain. That belief helped me persevere and look for purpose when life felt bleak. 

God did, in fact, use my suffering to deepen my faith and help me learn more about mental health issues. Having two books published with characters that are dealt complicated hands, and forced to navigate ups and down, is concrete proof that God used my worst days for something good. But not only that, but I have a testimony of God’s faithfulness that I hope can help others going through a trial. 

Whether we’ve caused the mess or someone else has wronged us, no situation is too tough for God to rectify. He doesn’t forget or forsake us. He’s there with us every step of the way, no matter how dark the night or steep the climb.

Our insta-memories are fun and beautiful. We should celebrate and cherish the good times. But let’s not be afraid to show both sides of life. Whether we’re in imprisoned or elevated to power, something good can come out of our situation that can be used to help others.

Negative Thoughts Allowed

ok

I had really high hopes for 2018. My second novel, Everything She Lost, had a release date of January 2, my kids were getting older and (I thought) wiser, and I really wanted a year without drama. To give away the ending, 2018 was far from drama-free. Among my family (including extended), we faced hospitalizations, surgery, teen angst, bullying, and a hurricane (Bud of all names). 2018 felt like a bumpy roller coaster ride that wouldn’t end, and I have new gray hair to prove it.

I got through last year with lots of prayer, grumbling, and exasperation. But one thing that hasn’t helped, and has actually made the situation worse are three words that, while well-intentioned, annoy me to no end: “think positive thoughts.”

I’m sure “positive thinking” has been around for a really long time. But in my lifetime, I can trace the explosion of the concept to the 2006 self-help book, The Secret, by Rhonda Byrne. Don’t get me wrong – I was enamored with the concept initially. If I only think positive thoughts, only positive things will happen, the wisdom went. I thought, I can literally think my way to a life of prosperity, good health, ideal relationships, an awesome job, etc. I remember after reading the book, I felt so positive. And apparently, a lot of other people did too. The concept spread and spread, and before long, everyone was just brimming with positivity. Which is good! Of course, it’s good to be positive. But then life still happens.

In 2010, I had what could only be called a perfect storm of bad things happen. Really, really bad. As I struggled through that year, people kept telling me to “think positive thoughts.” Like, I know your world fell apart, but don’t think about it. I know you’re in a hard spot, but you must have brought in on yourself by negative thinking. I know you feel bad, but you shouldn’t, so don’t think about it. It felt like I was getting the message that if I was really going through something bad, I either brought it on myself by not thinking positively enough or I wasn’t thinking positively enough in order to get out of it. The “think positive mantra” insisted, if one can just see the bright side, everything will miraculously be better and fixed.

As anyone who has really suffered, or suffers, knows, that’s not how it works. Thinking positive thoughts isn’t a panacea to life’s problems. The fact is, bad things happen to people who’ve done absolutely nothing to warrant it – they didn’t think it into existence. People who live with chronic pain or illness can’t simply think their way to health. Those suffering loss and grief can’t just magically make their sorrow go away. Pain and hardship are a normal, and at times painstaking, part of life no matter how hard we try to safeguard ourselves from them.

I’m not saying being positive isn’t a good thing. Studies show that positive attitudes can often lead to positive health outcomes and help speed recovery. But wanting to have a positive outlook for yourself (which is good) and telling someone else they should be positive are two different things. When I’ve faced hardship, what I’ve wanted most from other people was simply to be there and empathize – not to tell me what to do or how I should do it.

The book of Genesis tells the account of Hagar, the slave of Sarai. After Sarai and Abram were unable to conceive a baby, Sarai told her husband to sleep with Hagar. After Hagar conceived, Sarai grew jealous and treated her slave harshly and with contempt. Unable to endure Sarai’s abuse any longer, Hagar ran away to the desert.

An angel of God found Hagar there. The angel told Hagar to go back home and submit to Sarai, and promised Hagar that her descendants will be “too numerous to count.” Humbled and moved that God had seen her in her pain and anguish, Hagar praises God saying, “‘You are the God who sees me,’ for she said, ‘I have now seen the One who sees me,’” (Genesis 16:13b), and Hagar calls God by His name, El Roi, “the God who sees me.”

God sees every single person living with pain, suffering, illness, anxiety, and other hardships. I love revisiting the short by Brene Brown on Empathy. I’ve started 2019 knowing that whatever this year brings, God sees me and will always help me through whatever I’m going through; and I will strive to see others in their pain and respond with empathy.