Thrive, Don’t Simply Survive 1
in a Woman’s Life
Identifying Your Struggles
and Realizing You Are Not Alone
No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; he’ll never let you be pushed past your limit; he’ll always be there to help you come through it.
1 Corinthians 10:13 MSG
YOU ARE NOT ALONE..
Somehow that statement brings comfort, doesn’t it? Knowing someone else is journeying with you offers encouragement and hope. Right now you may be thinking, I feel so all alone. No one understands my frustration and pain. Certainly there is no other person who knows exactly how you feel or has experienced the specific grief of your personal disappointment—yet, my friend, I want you to know you are not alone.
You are not alone, because there beside you, although you may not see him or feel him, is the God who cares for you. He is the God who sees all, and he invites you to cast your cares on him.1
Throughout the ages, God has been lovingly reassuring his people,
“Do not be afraid, for I am with you.”2
In Psalms, we read David’s affirmation of God’s presence: “I can never escape from your Spirit! I can never get away from your presence!”3
Try as we might, we can’t hide from God. His loving arms extend wherever we go. God will meet us where we are, with arms open wide, saying, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”4
I cannot tell you why you are in the seat of disappointment, nor can I answer the question, “Why did God allow this?” The answers aren’t always easy or evident. Although we may not understand why God allows the not-so-happy scenarios in our lives, we can still trust his love and care for us. He is a merciful and patient God. You may have been ignoring him for many years, but, my friend, it is never too late to cry out to him. The Bible assures us that if we seek him, we will find him.5
The God of all comfort loves you and desires a relationship with you.
The Bible describes God as “compassionate and gracious, . . . slow to anger, abounding in love.”6
Isn’t that an inviting description? What a wonderful heavenly Father we have! As his children, we can be assured he is with us in the joyful times of our lives as well as in the difficult ones.
Picture with me just for a moment a loving parent who takes her child to the park and the zoo and the ice cream shop. Can you imagine the same parent dropping off her injured child at the hospital and saying, “I know you’re in a lot of pain, but I’m busy right now. I’ll come back and pick you up later when everything is okay.” No, a good parent will lovingly hold her child through the difficult and painful experiences. Now, if a human parent cares for a child in this manner, how much more does our perfect heavenly Father hold us with his gentle loving embrace through the trials we face? Our gracious God will never leave us.
Although your pain is personal, you are not the only one who has experienced pain. We share a common bond with women throughout the ages who have experienced disappointments and loss, both great and small. From Eve in the Garden of Eden all the way to you and me, no one is exempt from experiencing failed dreams and dashed expectations. Not only do we find camaraderie in the common experience of disillusionment, but we can also find hope from the strength, peace, and blessing other women have experienced through their struggles. Within each story of disenchantment is a nugget of possibility. Of course, no one’s story is exactly like yours or mine; however, there still exists in every woman’s story an element of hope that can inspire and encourage us.
Although your pain is personal, you are not the only one who has experienced pain.
Personally, I gain strength from knowing other women faced similar disappointments and not only survived, but thrived. If you are like me, you are inspired by the stories of women who passionately lived the lives they didn’t plan. Whether we are reading about women in history or present-day accounts, we are heartened to know that we are not the only ones who have faced insurmountable odds or a change in our life direction. Consider my friend Jan’s story.
Jan always pictured herself as the mother of girls. In fact, she still has her childhood Barbie collection, which she had planned to someday pass down to her daughters. But Jan wouldn’t trade her four sons for the world. She says the one word that describes her life is adaptation. Of course, adapting to four sons instead of having daughters has been a relatively easy adaptation to God’s plan, compared to adapting to the fact that one of her sons is severely disabled.
When Connor, her third son, was born, Jan and her mother, Dede, recognized that something wasn’t quite right. Although the hospital sent him home saying he was healthy, they noticed a few red flags. He didn’t cry, and although that may seem nice, Jan and Dede knew it wasn’t a good sign. Every feeding was a struggle, and Connor’s eyes didn’t track movement. Jan and her husband, Patrick, took Connor to doctor after doctor trying to find answers.
As Connor grew, he couldn’t walk or talk or feed himself. His full list of disorders includes cerebral palsy, seizure disorder, cortical visual impairment (brain blindness), microcephaly (small head), severe developmental delay, mental retardation, difficulty swallowing, low muscle tone, and immobility. Even now at twelve years old, Connor functions like a newborn, totally dependent on others. He cannot sit up, roll over, feed himself, or talk.
When Connor was two years old, the Wrights’ fourth son was born. With a special-needs child and a newborn who both needed full-time care, in addition to their other two sons, Jan soon became physically and emotionally overwhelmed. Each day she seemed to simply survive, trying to get the two older boys off to school and then care for the younger ones with little or no sleep. Jan had wonderful family and friends who helped, but she still felt like she was in the pit of despair with no answers and no hope.
Jan remembers one day when she looked at herself in the mirror, saw her haggard face, and thought, Who is that woman? Then in the quietness of the moment, she heard God’s voice saying to her, Are you going to let this kill you, or are you going to rise to the occasion and get on with your life? You have a husband who loves you, and your kids need a functional mommy. You have a lot to keep you going! She realized that her self-pity, anger, and grief were getting her nowhere.
Jan knew then that it was a moment of decision. Although she didn’t have all the answers, it was time to accept her situation and do the best she could for Connor and the rest of her family. She began to open her eyes to God’s provision and take positive steps forward. Jan
recalls that she and Patrick decided they were not just going to survive this, but chose to thrive in it. (In fact, Jan’s words became the inspiration for the title of this book.) They knew they were called to be more than conquerors through Christ.
Jan is honest about her emotional journey through her challenges. She says, “I definitely did not feel adequate. I still don’t. But here I am!” By relying on God’s strength day by day, she has learned to passionately live the life she didn’t plan.
They have endured hardships, but Jan and Patrick wouldn’t trade them for all the blessings they have received from having Connor in their family. The Wright family is fun-loving and joyful. They continually reach out to help other people, and their home is always filled with friends. The family bond is strong, and their trust in the Lord has grown deep.
Connor will never walk or talk this side of heaven, but his life is a blessing. He has brought joy to each member of his family. Their journey has been long and challenging, but they are thankful for the life lessons Connor has taught them. Jan readily admits, “I have always felt very ordinary. But I know the Bible is full of ordinary people God called and equipped to do something special.”
Jan didn’t sign up for the challenges she has faced, yet she has learned to lean on God through her journey. Day by day, God gives Jan what she needs to step up and passionately live the life she didn’t plan.
Jan learned not only to adapt, but to live victoriously through her unexpected life challenges. In this chapter, we will explore seven common disappointments women typically face in life. Now I’m not saying that every woman has experienced all seven of these disappointments. Goodness, how depressing would that be? But these seven are the most common ones women experience in life. Most likely you will be nodding your head as you read, saying, “Yes, I can relate to that one and to that one, and boy am I glad I haven’t gone through that one!” My purpose here is not to open up your eyes to how miserable you really are, but
to help you identify your struggles and recognize you are not alone.
So let’s jump in and identify the big seven. Keep in mind, we are not going to deal with how to overcome the disappointments in this chapter (that’s what the rest of the book is about); we are simply identifying them.
1. Disappointment with Marriage
Whether you are single, married, or single again, you have probably discovered “living happily ever after” occurs in our favorite fairy tales but not in reality. If you have been married at least a year, you possibly have learned that your husband may not quite live up to the “knight in shining armor” you thought he would be. If you are not married, you may be longing for that special man to come into your life.
Disappointments in marriage include issues regarding finances, personal frustrations, indiscretions, and incompatibility. Maybe the good-looking guy you married in college turned out to be a lazy bum or a flagrant spender who ran you into serious debt. Or your Mr. Faithful turned out to be Mr. Flirt. Or your attentive boyfriend turned out to have the sensitivity of a barn door once you were married.
People surprise us. Sometimes they change, and sometimes they are just plain different than who we thought they were when we married them. Let’s face it, marriage is not as easy as we thought it would be. But through the disappointments in marriage, we can still see God’s hand at work as he strengthens our ability to love and be loved. Ultimately, we want to continually enrich our marriages, so they can be the best that they can be beyond the disappointments.
Perhaps you are single, though you had hoped and planned to be married by now. Or maybe you planned to live the rest of
your life with your husband, only to have weathered divorce or widowhood. Possibly you never thought of yourself as being a single parent, but there you are. Please don’t get me wrong—being single is not a negative; it just may not be the place you had planned to be right now. Whether single or married, we can choose to thrive no matter what the circumstances.
2. Disappointment with Kids
When it comes to kids, many parents experience frustration, surprise, or concern. Possibly you have a child who doesn’t fit into the delightful box society calls the “perfect child.” A disability or disease or defiant attitude may have changed the picture of what you always thought your family would look like. Whether it is a young, uncontrollable screamer or a teen running around with the wrong crowd, our kids, more than likely, are not going to be exactly what we envisioned.
When they are grown, our children may not marry who we thought they should, or they may not go into the type of profession we thought they would. You may feel the pain of their poor or sinful choices even when you taught them so carefully to do what is right. They may struggle with addictions. They may have distanced themselves from you or from your faith, and you never thought they would be so far away. Take comfort in the fact that God has a plan for your child’s life, just as he does for your own. I’m glad God loves us even though we do not fit into the “perfect people” box, aren’t you?
There is also deep pain in not being able to have children of your own. This, too, is an area of great disappointment and grief that many couples face today, and it is easy to lose hope. Waiting on God’s timing and watching others with their kids can be a terribly painful road. You may feel as though God doesn’t hear your cry for a child. This is a very difficult journey of faith: trusting God
even when you don’t understand why. Yet God sees your situation and is able to bring something good despite the frustration.
3. Disappointment with Self
Have you ever met a woman who was perfectly satisfied with the way she looks? Me neither! Even the most beautiful of friends complain about their weight or complexion or hair or veins. You name it, there’s a lot to whine about when it comes to appearance. But our disappointment with self is not just limited to our bodies; it extends to many different areas of life. We can be disappointed with our emotional weaknesses or our lack of abilities, talents, or strengths. There are times we may become discouraged in the way we handle relationships or our inability to get the right job or our lack of discipline.
A woman is never at a loss for ways to be down on herself. In fact, we are champs at beating ourselves up mentally over past choices or mistakes. Let me assure you, if you struggle in this area, you are definitely not alone. Unfortunately, most women don’t reveal their self-disappointment in a typical conversation, and this tends to make us feel as though we are the only ones who are unhappy with the way we turned out. We feel alone when it comes to how we view ourselves; yet if we were to expose every woman’s inner communication with self, we would find most of us have an internal struggle with confidence—some of us are just better at hiding it than others. The good news is God works through both our strengths and our weaknesses for a greater purpose.
A woman is never at a loss for ways to be down on herself.
4. Disappointment with Others
It is probably safe to say that someone has let you down at some point in your life. The fact is, even the noblest of people will disappoint us, because we are all human and we are all sinners. Friends will frustrate us, in-laws will annoy us, coworkers will anger us, and neighbors will be unkind to us. It’s the painful truth about humanity. If you think you are the only person in the world who has been wounded by another person, think again. People have been causing pain to others since the beginning of time (remember Cain and Abel?).7
The question is not whether we will be disappointed by others, but how we will handle the disappointments. Will we allow them to grow into bitterness and resentment, or will we live in the realm of grace, forbearance, and forgiveness?
Loneliness can be a by-product of our disappointment with people. It can develop as a result of our own choice to distance ourselves from a hurtful person, or it could be a result of someone distancing herself from us. You may have trouble connecting with people because you have been hurt in the past, or perhaps you have a tendency to be critical of others. Loneliness can be excruciating at times, yet God can comfort us in our loneliness through his presence and through his people. He can also use our loneliness as a catalyst to help us reach out to others and draw closer to God.
5. Disappointment with Circumstances
Do you feel like life is not exactly blowing you kisses? Circumstances beyond your control may have turned your seemingly happy life into a completely different scenario. I’m not sure any of us will ever be comfortable with the fact that situations can dramatically change, sometimes altering our dreams forever. A debilitating injury, a devastating hurricane, an unexpected layoff, an unplanned
pregnancy, a cancer diagnosis, bankruptcy, addiction, divorce—all can lead us into lives we did not plan.
Financial disappointments can be a constant source of frustration and pain. Whether it’s a downturn in the economy, job loss, or personal mishandling of finances, challenges can arise for people at any income level. You may feel as though you will never get back on your feet again, or you may feel frustrated because you are not living at the level you always thought you would. Although life seems unfair and unpredictable, I want to reassure you it is also full of potential and possibilities. The path you are on right now may not be fun or glamorous, but God can give you strength day by day as you move toward the hope ahead of you.
6. Disappointment with Religion
If you are disillusioned by established religion, you are a part of an increasing number of individuals, both Christian and non-Christian alike. Many young people today don’t see the church as a place where Christ’s love is exemplified; rather, they view the Christian community as hateful and condemning. Sadly, in many churches, Christ’s message of loving others as Christ loves us has faded into haughty attitudes and hateful disputes.
As believers, we need to be a community that shows the world what Christ’s love looks like, beginning with the gospel and moving out to touch lives with compassion. The authentic church based on the foundation of Jesus Christ is a beautiful thing. Unfortunately, many have been hurt by religiosity, whether it was a bad experience in a church, a not-so-faithful minister, or cruel students at a Christian school. Gossip, cliques, or judgmental spirits can also cause disillusionment with religion in general. You may have some scars that need God’s loving salve. As we take our focus off religion and put it back on Jesus, we begin to see the glory and goodness of his sincere love.
7. Disappointment with God
You prayed and prayed, and no clear answer seemed to come. Or worse, you prayed fervently, passionately, ceaselessly . . . only to have the situation turn out exactly the opposite of what you asked. You thought God loved you and would take care of you, but your life fell apart.
When disappointments like these come into our lives, we find ourselves asking, “Where is God?” Maybe you have shaken your fist at God in anger or given up on him completely. Perhaps you just decided to slowly distance yourself in your relationship with him, because you haven’t seen him show up. Disappointment with God comes in many different forms. Usually it brings with it a fair amount of guilt as the Enemy whispers in your ear, How could you give up on God? What kind of person are you anyway?
Believe it or not, some of our greatest Christian leaders have had moments of doubt or disillusionment. Even in the Bible we see Job’s questioning and David’s hopeless feelings. John the Baptist sent a message to Jesus from his dark prison cell asking, “Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?”8
Often disappointment with God results from not being able to understand God. We can’t comprehend that a loving, sovereign God would allow bad things to happen in our lives, so we question whether he is really there or whether he is who he says he is.
As we walk through this book together, I hope you will experience God in a new and fresh way. He can pick up the broken pieces of your life. Understanding why he allowed something in your life will not change the reality of who he is and what he can do through your circumstances. Whether we understand why God allowed something or not, we do know his comfort and care is available to us in the middle of our pain, for Scripture tells us, “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”9
A Beautiful Weaving of Hope
I’m sure you could relate to at least a few of the disappointments listed in this chapter (okay, maybe more than just a few). The good news is that although our lives haven’t turned out like we thought they would, all is not lost. Situations that seem frustrating or difficult could actually turn out to be opportunities to see God’s mighty and redeeming hand at work. Although we may not be able to envision the end result, God has a plan that goes far beyond what we can see.
Throughout this book, you will read stories about women just like you and me who have weathered the storms of change in their lives. In every story I hope you will see the hand of God carrying her along through her difficulties and leading her to new possibilities. Yes, God can use the twists and turns in our lives to lead us on a new journey. He may have a greater, eternal purpose that we cannot understand right now, and we may not fully comprehend it until we see Jesus face to face. The question is, are we willing to trust God and believe that he will bring blessings out of our pain? Will we trust him to design a new life that may be more beautiful than we ever imagined? Or will we settle for mere survival, or—maybe even less than survival—will we fall into discouragement, bitterness, and frustration?
Hope in God can turn disappointments into appointments to trust God. As David said in the midst of his sadness, “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.”10
Personally, I have found great encouragement from reading the words of the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah, who is known as the “weeping prophet.” Can you believe that? Encouragement from the weeping prophet! But I think you will be encouraged too. As Jeremiah grieved over the destruction of Jerusalem, he turned his eyes toward the day-to-day faithfulness of the Lord. Notice how
Jeremiah’s discouragement turns into words of strength as he dares to hope.
The thought of my suffering and homelessness
is bitter beyond words.
I will never forget this awful time,
as I grieve over my loss.
Yet I still dare to hope
when I remember this:
The faithful love of the LORD never ends!
His mercies never cease.
Great is his faithfulness;
his mercies begin afresh each morning.
I say to myself, “The LORD is my inheritance;
therefore, I will hope in him!”
The LORD is good to those who depend on him,
to those who search for him.
So it is good to wait quietly
for salvation from the LORD.”11
Will you dare to hope as Jeremiah did? As he grieved his loss, he also declared, “The faithful love of the LORD never ends!” Yes, his mercy is new and fresh each morning. My friend, as you walk this new and different road, seek God’s goodness and mercy along the way. Cry out to him for help, and trust his faithfulness to get you through one day at a time. Not one of us has been guaranteed a perfectly happy life. The Bible reminds us, “The righteous person faces many troubles, but the LORD comes to the rescue each time.”12
We will experience challenges in life, but God will not leave us. We may be called to persevere through trials and be patient in
tribulation, but God can still bring hope. Perhaps you have wondered, Doesn’t God want me to be happy? Surely he doesn’t want me to be miserable. The truth is, our hearts long for a lovely and happy life. We long for heaven. The Bible doesn’t promise us perfect circumstances here on earth, but it does offer us the opportunity to experience peace and joy through Christ.
One of my favorite passages in the Bible is found in the book of Nehemiah. God’s people had just returned to Jerusalem and had gathered together to hear the reading of the Book of the Law of God. As they stood there listening to God’s words, they began weeping. Their hearts moved toward repentance as they opened their hearts to God. Nehemiah encouraged them, “Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the LORD is your strength!”13
As we turn our hearts toward the Lord, his joy can be our strength as well. It is not a joy brought on by our circumstances or by people; it is a deeper joy that comes from the Lord. Jesus said, “When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!”14
Certainly God wants us to experience an overflowing joy, a joy that comes from abiding in him and walking in his ways. Life may not always be happy, but the joy of the Lord can always be our strength.
Life may not always be happy, but the joy of the Lord can always be our strength.
Hope and joy are two words that seem to be woven into the life of Corrie ten Boom. Although she spent ten months in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II and suffered the loss of four of her family members as a result of their hiding Jewish people from the Gestapo, she had a strength that could only come from the Lord. Here is a poem she often quoted as a result of experiencing God’s hand at work in her life.
BY GRANT COLFAX TULLER (1869–1950)
My life is but a weaving
Between my Lord and me;
I cannot choose the colors
He worketh steadily.
Oft’ times He weaveth sorrow;
And I, in foolish pride,
Forget He sees the upper,
And I the underside.
Not ’til the loom is silent
And the shuttles cease to fly,
Will God unroll the canvas
And reveal the reason why.
The dark threads are as needful
In the Weaver’s skillful hand,
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern He has planned.
He knows, He loves, He cares;
Nothing this truth can dim.
He gives the very best to those
Who choose to walk with Him.
Corrie added, “We see the back of the embroidery, God sees the front! He knows how beautiful it will be.”15
The circumstances of your life may not look pretty right now. There are times you will feel afraid or as though there is no hope. But God has not left you. He has a plan he is weaving together in his faithfulness and love. Wait and watch, my friend. Continue to seek God’s help and ask him for his hope to fill your heart. The Weaver of your life has not finished his work in you. The life you didn’t plan may lead you to a new purpose and passion in which you will joyfully thrive.
STEPPING FORWARD POINTS
• You are not alone. God is with you in the midst of your discouraging circumstances.
• Every woman has experienced disappointments to some degree in her life.
• The following are the seven most common disappointments in women’s lives.
1. Disappointment with marriage
2. Disappointment with kids
3. Disappointment with self
4. Disappointment with others
5. Disappointment with circumstances
6. Disappointment with religion
7. Disappointment with God
• Every disappointment can be turned into an appointment to trust God’s plan.
• Dare to place your hope in God.
• Great is God’s faithfulness! Day by day we can experience his mercy and joy as we turn our eyes toward him.
• God is a redeeming God who is weaving a greater, more eternal picture than what we can see right now.
PASSAGE: PSALM 139:7–18
I can never escape from your Spirit!
I can never get away from your presence!
If I go up to heaven, you are there;
if I go down to the grave, you are there.
If I ride the wings of the morning,
if I dwell by the farthest oceans,
even there your hand will guide me,
and your strength will support me.
I could ask the darkness to hide me
and the light around me to become night—
but even in darkness I cannot hide from you.
To you the night shines as bright as day.
Darkness and light are the same to you.
You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,
as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.
You saw me before I was born.
Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out
before a single day had passed.
How precious are your thoughts about me, O God.
They cannot be numbered!
I can’t even count them;
they outnumber the grains of sand!
And when I wake up,
you are still with me!
Gracious and kind heavenly Father, I praise you for your loving presence. Although I cannot understand why disappointments happen in my life, I can trust that you
will love me and be with me to see me through. I know you will redeem my disappointment; thank you for using the difficulties and challenges in my life to help me grow stronger. Thank you for the strength you give me through the process. I believe you have a bigger plan I cannot see. Help me to walk by faith and not by sight. I love you, Lord. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Consider the disappointments you are currently experiencing in life. Take a moment to write them down in a notebook or even in the back of this book. Now prayerfully go over each disappointment, asking God to comfort you and give you strength and hope. Write down the following verse, Zephaniah 3:17 NIV, on an index card, and memorize it as you journey through this unexpected path.
The LORD your God is with you,
he is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
he will quiet you with his love,
he will rejoice over you with singing.
Our troubles have always brought us blessings,
and they always will.
They are the black chariots of bright grace.
C. H. Spurgeon