All Grace Abounding

27 Oct

IMG_20151013_151122On my way to the grocery store while Travis was in Colorado for eight days elk hunting, I realized that sadly, his being gone actually didn’t feel that much different than his being home (in terms of how much I do taking care of the house and girls). He’s been working so much that it feels somewhat odd when he’s not working; when weekends are spent doing non-work things, like hanging out, running errands, chipping away at projects; when I actually see my husband for more than an hour or two at a time.

His work schedule has been so crazy for the last I-can’t-even-remember-how-long that instead of waiting for Travis to go do fun stuff like the zoo, corn maze, and pumpkin patch, I’ve just started doing those things without him. I’ve stopped expecting him to get off work at a certain time. I’ve (mostly) stopped hoping he’ll spend time with us in the evening. I’m still disappointed when Travis mentions that he has to work for a few hours, especially on weekends, but overall, I’ve adjusted my expectations to be that Travis won’t be hanging out with us.

Do I think that that’s the ideal way to handle this situation? No. I believe strongly in the importance of a husband and father spending quality time with his wife and kids, so I will fight against Travis’ absence being a long-term normal thing. But let me tell you, adjusting my expectations in this way has been a heck of a lot easier – on both me and my marriage – than feeling constant disappointment and unrealized hopes. Doing fun things with my girls and staying busy helps me cope with the ache of a heart that craves more time with my husband.

Travis doesn’t like working this much. He would cut his hours back to a simple 40 in a heartbeat if he could. He’d take more vacation days if he could. He’d be thrilled to spend his evenings and weekends with me and the girls instead of clocking hours in his office (which we’ve nicknamed the Chateau D’if) if he could. “Things are crazy right now, but they should get better soon” has been the echoing refrain of this past year.

But I’m starting to think through the possibility of things not getting better soon, the possibility of this being the reality of our lives for the foreseeable future. (Because that is a very real possibility.) It would be easy to let this situation drift indeterminably while optimistically thinking it’s temporary and have it end up altering what we consider to be our “normal” – that we’d get used to doing things without daddy and it’d no longer feel strange for him to not be there. Indifference to his absence would replace our hope for things to change.

Often, it takes the possibility of a situation not being temporary to make us realize how challenging the circumstance actually is. It’s like, as long as the spark of hope remains that you’re almost to the other side of the trial, you can stay strong and keep trucking. But once you realize that “the other side” might be a long way away, that spark of hope dies and you give up.

It reminds me of Florence Chadwick, the first woman to swim the English Channel both ways. In 1952, she attempted to swim from Catalina Island to mainland California. She had been swimming 15 hours, was physically and emotionally exhausted, and ended up quitting only 800 meters (1/2 mile) from shore (which to any seasoned swimmer is practically nothing!). “All I could see was the fog. I think if I could have seen the shore, I would have made it,” she said the next day at a news conference. {source}

Like Florence, I often stop swimming because I can’t see the end. I’m stubborn and determined so I survive for a while by hunkering down and gritting my teeth through trials, willing myself to stay strong until it’s over. “Just get through this. It’ll get better.” But rarely do I make it to the finish line before my resolve gives out. The tipping point is almost always caused by something that, on its own, is small and inconsequential – but added to the heap of stress, fear and pain that has been brimming underneath the surface of my life, it’s the last straw. The dam breaks. A flood of pent-up emotions comes rushing out.

But just like the rainbow that appeared when the waters receded after the great flood of Noah’s time, each flood of my own emotions brings with it with the blessed awareness that once again, I’ve been trying to survive life on my own strength. As seeing the shoreline would’ve most likely given Florence the influx of strength and motivation she needed to persevere, so also seeing the big picture will also strengthen and motivate me.

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What is the big picture? Surely it is not that this trial of Travis’ working so much will come to an end sometime – because that is not certain. Rather, the big picture that gives me hope is that God is sufficient in all things. His sufficiency in being, and providing, everything I need is the way through this trial, and any trial for that matter. For those who work multiple jobs, make minimum wage and still scrape by, this stress of working is a constant reality. But we all find joy in trying circumstances the same way: by looking to God.

Jesus says:

“The thief [of this world] comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation, but take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.” (John 14:1)

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:9-11)

Joy in God amidst earthly strife is possible – Jesus says it is. He tells us to trust Him, abide in His love for us, and focus on the end – He has already overcome the world. We cannot see the end ourselves; we are stuck swimming in the fog. But God sees the end. And it is by banking on His future promises and His current provision of grace and strength that we can persevere and not give up.

“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:8)

The apostle Paul knew what it was like to persevere in the face of trials. In 2 Corinthians 6:3-10, he writes, “We put no obstacles in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.”

In chapter 11, he continues, “Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.” (v. 24-28)

“For we do not want you to ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” (2 Cor. 1:8-9)

“But [the Lord] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor. 12: 9-10

Paul welcomed his trials and hardships as opportunities for him to learn and live out dependence on Christ. As anyone who has been pushed past their capacity or strength knows, that’s often what it takes to break our attempts at self-sufficiency and get us down on our knees before God. In that spirit, I am trying to fight against my natural tendency to grit my teeth through this and instead, embrace this as another opportunity for learning how to live fully in a trying circumstance, trusting God to use it in our lives for our good and His glory.

So Travis and I have been discussing, “If this is our reality for the foreseeable future, what changes do we need to make to live well right now?” Not surprisingly, the changes we are trying to make address the issues that have caused the most problems between us:

1. Communicate in a helpful way.

When Travis has to work in the evening and I am disappointed, I have often expressed that disappointment as anger – because frankly, I’m mad he has to work. But not mad at him, just at the situation. However, he perceives my anger as being directed at him because he is, after all, the one who has to work. The helpful way to communicate my disappointment (according to the man himself) would be to say, “I understand you have to work, but I’m disappointed we can’t hang out.” Duly noted.

To Travis’ credit, he has done a pretty good job (after learning the hard way) of letting me know about his additional work demands a day or two in advance. It helps me to know what to expect. When I have time to process, I can respond better than I can when the situation is sprung upon me at the last minute.

2. Have family time free from the 3 P’s: phones, projects and the paper.

This one is mostly for me, because one of my love languages is quality time. Since we don’t have as much time together as a family as we want, we need to maximize the time we do have. And in my opinion, it just isn’t quality time when the whole family is doing their own thing. Our biggest distractions are our phones, the newspaper and “small, quick” house projects. So, from the time that Travis gets off work to the time that Annabelle goes to bed (which is usually 1-2 hours), those distractions are off-limits.

3. Prioritize date nights.

This is something we’ve (I’ve) been lax about because it’s my job to find a babysitter and I just haven’t put the time or effort into it. But now that Annabelle is 7 months old and can eat some solid food, we wouldn’t have to bring her along, so it would be a true date night! That would be awesome. I need to get my butt in gear and work on this. Our goal is one date night every month.

4. Be generous, but realistic.

There have been numerous good or fun things that we’ve had to say no to because they would have just stretched us too thin. It’s definitely a balancing act to know how much to serve and help out, or when to enjoy time with friends, and when you need to pull back and focus on your own family – but it’s a balance worth striving for. My natural tendency in hardship is to focus all my resources on myself and my family – because in my selfishness, my problems seem the biggest – but that kind of self-preservation usually just ends up magnifying the problem. It nurtures my soul to serve and love others, even when I’m experiencing a hard situation.

This also applies to my marriage. Hunting is an annual sore subject for us, just because it takes so much time – there’s packing, setting up stands, sighting in guns, target practice, traveling, then the actual hunting, and if they’re successful, meat butchering. The selfish part of me thinks that it’s just more time spent away from me and the girls for a “stupid hobby.” But the loving part of me knows that my husband loves hunting and since he spends the majority of his time providing for his family, he could use some time to relax and recharge doing something that je really enjoys (and almost his whole family hunts so it’s also time spent with them).

More and more, I am learning that the balance I need in life is only achievable through the power of the Holy Spirit. As a mere human, I am only capable of swinging from one extreme to another. In this case, from staking my heart on my expectations and demanding my own way to leaving expectations behind in a wake of indifference and cold-heartedness. But with the Spirit’s power and presence, I can continue desiring more time with my husband without that hope smothering our marriage, and I can be content with the time we do have together without losing hope that that time will increase. That balance is possible only when I am staking my heart first and foremost on God. God alone is sufficient in all things.

“And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency [or contentment] in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” (2 Corinthians 9:8)

2 Responses to “All Grace Abounding”

  1. Sheri Moen October 28, 2015 at 11:33 am #

    That is a wonderful article.
    Well written and inspirational.

  2. Kristen October 28, 2015 at 5:15 pm #

    I am pretty sure that you and I lead parallel lives. My husband and I have been dealing with the exact same issues lately.

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