Several years ago I had the opportunity to go with Isaac on one of his school field trips to a local plantation called ‘Cypress Gardens’. It is filled with history of the plantation that used to be located there, and was currently visited for its butterfly house, swamps and walking trails. They had a cool ‘Swamparium’ that allowed you to see snakes, turtles, lizards and ridiculous sized fish from the lovely safety of the ‘other side of the glass’. Or if you were feeling a little more adventurous you could jump in a rowboat and go out into the swamp to catch a glimpse of one of these critters up close and personal. While we didn’t adventure into the boat, we did walk the trails seeing several baby gators, funny necked turtles and yes, even a black snake. All of the wildlife aside, I could not get over the swamp’s multitude of lily pads. It was ridiculous. And in many cases there seemed no break – no glimpses of the water they floated in. It was amazing. The ‘water’ was about as disgusting as you could imagine; covered in a nice thick, green, slimy film; a perfect oasis for the many alligators that I know lay hidden beneath. What I found remarkable, in all of it, were the countless waterlilies laced throughout the entire swamp. These waterlilies were pure white, unblemished, in full beautiful bloom – gorgeous – and all I could do was ask ‘how?’ How on earth could something so beautiful come out of something so disgusting?
Over the years I have developed an uncanny way of forgetting things. From a very young age there are entire chunks of my life that I have no memory of … I have only a handful of memories from high school, no recollection of middle school (if we drove by the building today I would not even recognize it), and the things that happened before my 11th birthday are so sketchy that I often wonder if it is a memory or dream. It’s something that I struggle with still as an adult. I have no idea how this came to be my reality and usually don’t dwell too much on it. It’s really more comical now than anything. I know that my childhood included many trials, as have various periods of my adulthood. Trials that I eagerly seek to forget, but that have embedded themselves into the fabric of who I am, how I respond to events and my expectations. I can go back a bit to times of stress and busyness that have placed strain on my marriage. I remember difficulties that arose when I was pregnant with Lacie that for a time faced us with scary questions and hard decisions regarding my health and her life. I remember periods of time where God seemed so silent and my own voice far too loud. I remember difficulties with various friendships and relationships throughout the years, poor decisions that I made, getting through my college years and even having to walk away from an extremely toxic relationship. Even now, I am sitting here at the start of a new year and I find my thoughts to be conflicted, torn and pulled in multiple directions. There are the thoughts of all that this past year entailed…the trials of a pandemic that rocked our nation, affected my community, and altered my family in many significant ways. There were the trials that came with the changes of leaving a toxic work environment, helping my kids adjust to virtual learning and settling into a new home. There were the trials that rose up out of an abundance of change. As quickly as each of these thoughts and memories drift across my mind – there comes flooding in the current realities of today. There is anger amongst my friends and family unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed. There is disappointment, frustration, loneliness and fear in every interchange I participate in, hear or read. There is such loss. It is heavy and seemingly hopeless. Surely this isn’t the way things are supposed to be? As much as the details of each of these things remain in the shadows of my head, and the current realities of a broken world, hurting friends and unknown future scream out loudly in front of me…they all ring out the truth of John 16:33 – in this world you will have trouble.
I have been trying to reconcile this past year and the realities of this current one all while trying to be much more intentional about being in God’s Word. One of my all time favorite books of the Bible, one I am studying again currently, is the book of James. Right out of the gate James is talking trials. Allow me to take a minute to compare a few translations that demonstrate the heart of what he is trying to tell you and I at the beginning of his book. He says to ‘consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds’; ‘you will face trials of many kinds- when you do think of it as pure joy’; ‘my friends consider yourselves fortunate when all kinds of trials come your way’; and my favorite – ‘consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides.’ I hear that, I read that, I clearly see it printed before me and all I can do is ask ‘how’? How on earth can something so hard be counted as pure joy?
And then God gave me this ‘for instance’ – when I was little I lived in a home that had some pretty peculiar rules. The youngest of three sisters we each had our own room – and we were each to stay in our own room. We had to ask permission to come downstairs – and that was usually only to ask a question, never to just hang out or play or watch TV. I never learned to ride a bike, don’t remember ever playing on our swing set (though we did have one) and only once did I ever have a friend come over. We could not even be in each other’s rooms. I often say it was like we were baby dolls placed on a shelf. When my mom wanted to play with us, she’d bring us off our shelf otherwise that is where we stayed. Now for me, as a mom of four very active children – in need of interaction, quality time, affection, conversation, and fuel for their overactive dramatic minds and hearts – I am blown away by the fact that this was my childhood. When I was little, I experienced times of great sadness and loss, times of great fear and insecurity but I can also tell you that I absolutely can look back and count it all joy. I found solace in the comfort of stuffed animals. I found creativity in the multitude of coloring books and stories that filled my shelves. I found comfort in knowing that I was not alone. I see how it shaped who I am today. I remember my dependance on God. I see how it is something that now allows me grace and understanding to those who hurt similarly and it has propelled me to a different way of living. Oddly I look back on my childhood and it looks strikingly like the swamps of Cypress Gardens. Gross, disgusting, nothing you would want to swim in and yet out of it came something beautiful.
Intrigued by the beauty of the waterlilies I saw on that field trip, I went home and ‘googled’ how they could grow in all of that yuck. Turns out – they were designed for the yuck. Rooted deep in the ground beneath the swamp waters – they rise tall and strong so that that their blossoms and their leaves come up tall above the swampy waters. For each lily pad you see on the water – a beautiful bloom was once attached.
My sweet friend, when it comes to the trials that we face in life – find comfort in the fact that we were designed to rise above these trials. We need to root ourselves into the deep soil that is Jesus Christ – and when we do, He will help us to rise tall and strong even in the most unlikely of scenarios. We have to stop looking angrily at the trials that come our way or that were our past. We have to look for how His hand held onto us. We have to realize that He is greater than _________________ – whatever that blank may say. A great pastor, Wayne Corderio even explained it this way (and I’m merely paraphrasing) ‘sometimes we go through times of trial where instead of God lifting us over it – He grabs us by the hand and drags us right through it. Sometimes that process of dragging us on the ground is repetitive. We are battered and beaten, but even in the dragging – He never lets go of our hand.’ It is a fair question to ask…how on earth can something beautiful come from something so disgusting? Romans 5:3-5 – ‘Not only so, but also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.’ Perseverance, character, hope, endurance, and a deepened faith in Christ – each so beautiful! Yes, in this world we will have troubles…there will be trials…but we can find joy because He has overcome the world. May we rest in that promise today!