Twice. That’s how many times, as an adult, I’ve awakened to the day in tears. One time was last March, on the day after H’s mom passed away. The other time was nearly eight years ago, in a hotel room in downtown Lincoln, Nebraska. I remember it like it was yesterday.
Our family of four had spent ten days sharing two rooms on one of the top floors in that hotel. We were guests of a downtown church, and that church was looking for a Pastor. The ten days had been filled with meet-and-greets, tours of local high schools, house hunting, informal dinners, formal potlucks, a few church services, and a roller coaster ride of emotions. For me, it had been one red flag after another.
There was the fact I didn’t want to be a pastor’s wife. And, I didn’t want to move my children, especially with the oldest going into his senior year of high school. On top of all that, I didn’t like Nebraska. Or Lincoln. The heat was stifling, the landscape foreboding, the culture confused me, the food was weird. Then, there was the church itself. The best way I can describe it is to simply say I had a feeling in my gut that moving to Lincoln wasn’t going to be good.
Our ten day trip ended on a Sunday. Our itinerary for the day included a church service in which H would preach, and after which the congregation would vote — yes or no — deciding whether H was God’s pastor for them. That morning, when I opened my eyes in that hotel room, the weight of the world was sitting on my chest. Like cement blocks, stacked one atop the other, and reaching to the very gates of heaven. If I could have, I would have climbed those cement blocks right up to the pearly gates and clung on for dear life. Instead, I sobbed into the white comforter, and tried not to draw attention to myself. Waking up in that hotel room, I knew the congregation would vote yes, and I knew H would accept the offer. I knew all those red flags would nip at my heels, and I knew moving to Lincoln wasn’t going to be good.
Now, I recognize we sometimes make our own destiny by going into a particular situation with our mind already made up about how things are going to go down. We take a bad attitude with us, and that bad attitude spills over into every encounter, making our experience a living hell. But there are other situations that just aren’t good, no matter which way you slice them. Moses knew talking to Pharaoh wasn’t going to be a piece of cake. Gideon knew fighting the Midianites wouldn’t be a walk in the park. For me, the prospect of moving to Lincoln was more of the Moses or Gideon variety. Like Moses, I reasoned with God, making sure God was aware of all the reasons this decision wouldn’t be good. And, like Gideon, I asked God for a sign — anything other than those red flags that made a pit open up in the bottom of my stomach. But, I received no reprieve, and no sign that it was all good.
In church yesterday, a young man named Pat visited with us and talked about adversity. He has seen his share of it, and by the time he finished telling us his story, most of us were rummaging through our purses, or through the pockets of our trousers, looking for a tissue or a handkerchief or an old receipt from Target we could use to wipe the tears.
Here is where I tell you I was right. Our move to Nebraska was not good. It was heartbreaking. It was depressing. It was all the things I feared, and then some. It made me wonder if God was real; or if God had forgotten me. When adversity comes our way, Pat said we wonder why God would treat us like that. We can’t reconcile the fact that God allows yuck into our lives, with the truth that God is love. And so we conclude God only loves us until we mess up, at which point will God beat us over the head with our own mistakes.
But Truth is Truth, and God is, indeed, Love. And Love is bigger than merely good.
We’ve been in Nebraska for nearly eight years. Most of the time, when I ask people if they’ve been here, they respond with, “I’ve been through Nebraska.” If you’re one of the people who’ve passed through, on your way to someplace good, you’ve probably seen the sign at the Nebraska state line, emblazoned with Nebraska’s motto: “The Good Life.” I’ve scoffed at that motto more times than seems fair or right. Or good. But the truth is, I’ve experienced the love and the joy and the grace of God in Nebraska, more profoundly than in any other place I’ve been. It hasn’t always been good, but it has been one of the best experiences of my life. The other day, as I rode my bike over the asphalt in downtown Lincoln, I heard a voice say out loud, “This is the good life.” It caught me off guard…especially when I realized that voice was mine.
Years ago, a friend told me, “God is more concerned with your character, than with your comfort.” And yesterday, after Pat finished speaking, and the rest of us tried to compose ourselves, H said, in a broken voice, “We run from stuff that hurts, when God is trying to complete a work in us.” The bible talks a lot about adversity. Yesterday, Pat said it basically boils down to this: Adversity will come our way, God won’t keep us from it, and God won’t keep it from us. But when adversity does show up at our door, we can be really happy about it, because — believe it or not — God can use it to complete something in us, and to reveal His love for us in even greater ways.
What adversity are you facing today? I want to reassure you that adversity in your life doesn’t mean God has stopped loving you. That’s not possible. God IS Love. Sometimes, however, God uses the tough stuff of life to increase our trust in God, or to understand how much we are loved. I’m praying you know God isn’t just up to something good in your life, God is up to something more.