I remember from a young age having a deep desire to help other people. My parents were definitely what one would call “good people” in that they spent most of their lives helping other people. They worked in foreign missions, they were always welcoming people into our home from all different walks of life from folks with broken marriages to kids without active parents. I was given numerous opportunities to serve in various parts of the country from Indian reservations in Arizona to Homeless people in New Orleans. In middle school and high school I organized events where we would write letters to soldiers and make care packages and send them overseas. I wanted to grow up and do the work that good people do and help others.
But then I went out on my own as a young adult, and I quickly found myself in many positions of need where I was left without any other choice but to ask for help. I suddenly understood the Martin Luther King quote
“It’s all right to tell a man to lift himself by his own bootstraps, but it is cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps.”
We were without boots in a society that worships the self made man. As a young married couple with children, we were discovering what it meant to have the desire to work but not be able to find it after months and months of going on interviews. We discovered that one cannot live off of minimum wage much less a family of five. We discovered that our marriage wasn’t bullet proof and that it too would be attacked. We were left time and time again being unable to provide for our kids, left to solely rely on the kindness of strangers. I distinctly remember on multiple occasions feeling so angry and thinking “God, we were supposed to be the ones helping others!! We were never supposed to be on the receiving end.”
I felt guilty because that’s what self righteous american culture will make you feel. We were walking through a valley and the darkness was quickly taking over. Why God? Why? In the midst of it, I was completely blind to my own selfishness and completely blind to the fact that maybe all these years of suffering could be beautiful. Maybe in our hitting rock bottom we would be able to look up, maybe in our darkness we would see light. God in his grace and goodness has been teaching me so much over these past few very very hard years. I could go into more depth as to why they have been so hard, but really this post is not about the heart ache, but about the lessons that have been learned in the valley. These are a few of the things that have stood out to me most.
- It gave me an opportunity to practice what I preach. I spent most of my life hating the church because of the way everyone I saw at church lived a double life. Through our trials, we were gifted a faith rooted in experience. I can now say I believe God works all things together for our good not because the Bible says this or some pastor told it to me, but I can say this because I have seen this play out in my own story. Through our trials, we were given a much more authentic and real faith. Faith is not what you make it, it was literally all we had to make it.
- We got to experience the kindness of strangers firsthand. Christmas 2017 we had zero dollars in our bank account. I was the primary earner for our household and hadn’t been to work in several weeks because I was too sick (and 9 months pregnant). There was no way we were going to have money to pay our rent much less, give Christmas gifts to our kids! But someone went behind the scenes and organized Christmas gifts for our entire family. Over 20 different people, most complete strangers, contributed to bringing gifts to our family. Are Christmas gifts a necessity? Absolutely not! But I believe God in his kindness, gave abundant gifts to us through our friends and complete strangers alike. Through this act of kindness and many others, we were able to experience the kindness of others and ultimately, the fact that God wants to give good gifts to his children. Experiential faith again here!
- I was able to see how my desire to help others had been rooted in selfishness. I wanted to be a hero instead of a servant. I wanted to be a problem solver instead of a friend. I wanted to help because that’s what good people do, not because I too knew what it was like to work 60 plus hours a week and still go hungry. Suffering has humbled me, which i greatly needed and still need. But it has allowed me to see helping others through a different lens than before.
- It has helped me to be more gracious with others. I am admittedly, extremely impatient and hot tempered. But I constantly remember the way others have been gracious and kind to me and ultimately how God has been patient and kind and it helps me to respond in a more gracious way to others (sometimes- I am still a looong work in progress). It’s also hard to be selfish with what you have when it all has been given to you from the kindness of others hearts.
- We learned that our hope ultimately does not rest in a paycheck or a good paying job and that was SO freeing my friends! In the midst of the hardship, I found a freedom and a lightness knowing deep down in my heart that God would ultimately provide for us no matter what. From money in our mailbox to complete strangers having a heart for our family, we were taken care of and still are.
In the valleys, we have been offered glimpses into the kindness of humanity and the goodness of God. I encourage you if your in the middle of a dark season, to look for glimpses of color, subtle reminders that broken messes can be made beautiful. Have hope my friend, be hopeful.