Two years ago I decided to get a tattoo. I was turning 44, and I was quite suddenly very comfortable in my own skin and secure in my place in this world. Mark and I were in our beloved California, visiting our favorite little hamlet north of San Francisco. (The town is magical, but I probably won’t ever blog about it because it’s ours, and that would feel like telling a secret I was sworn to keep.)
On the eve of my birthday, I walked into the local tattoo parlor and had “Faith” inked permanently onto my right wrist in Hebrew. You see, in addition to settling into myself, I had also made a permanent, unchanging realization about the importance of faith in my life.
Everyone has faith in something. I would say that for many years in my life, despite a belief in God, I had very little faith in Him. My faith was in myself and my ability to DO and HAVE. I saw the good in my life as a reflection of my own ability and grit.
For many years, things rocked along, and I saw success in my career and personal life. During this time, I gave God the time and recognition that one might give their mother-in-law or second cousin twice removed. I was hyper-focused on the “rightness” of following God’s laws, and had very little empathy. I confess that during those years I was often unkind and graceless in my responses. My faith was a way to satisfy my need to be right. A hammer to drive home my point.
I really don’t know when God began to change my heart. If I look back, I realize that little by little, I began to desire knowing Him, and the more my mind learned, the more my heart was remolded. I can’t separate the events that led to a deep, abiding, living faith; was it the study of Ephesians that we did in church? or the conversations with my friend Sara about living a life of faith? or the fact that my children were baptized and I was deeply moved by that experience? I believe that God orchestrated all of these things and many more to drive me toward Him.
What I’ve learned about God is that He pursues us. For a person like me who desires total autonomy and control over the events of her life, this chase was essential in transforming my faith. It’s hard to ignore Someone when then are always at your heels, pulling you into Their goodness and grace. Finally, I stopped and gave Him my attention and that has made all the difference in my life.
If you know me, you know that I find a great deal of satisfaction in my success as an educator. It thrills me to be good at what I do, and I thrive in situations where I can help and do for others. For many years, my job was my identity. It shames me to say that my views on stay at home moms were not altogether charitable. I “couldn’t imagine feeling fulfilled” as a stay at home mom, and there was never a time where I was compelled to seriously consider making that kind of a move. So, nobody was more surprised than me, when that exact idea sprouted and grew inside me.
It took me three years to quit my job. I almost couldn’t let go, despite knowing it was exactly where God was leading me. By this point, I knew that I was in a season where I had to step back and serve my family. Again, so many events and conversations led to this knowledge, but little by little the idea of staying home filled my every cell with peace and confidence. The more time I spent in God’s Word, the more I began to hear the Holy Spirit confirm this monumental move. Not that it was easy. Obviously. I struggled with leaving a job I loved to stay home, and it took over one thousand days to actually do it.
You know what’s funny about stepping out in faith toward the thing that God has for you? It isn’t a recipe for “the easy life.” Silly me, I kind-of assumed that once I did step away from work I’d be happy as a clam and that life would be shinier and less of a struggle. Not so, dear reader. My first year as a stay at home mom was bumpy. I battled loneliness so big it was almost tangible. It filled me and deflated me at the same time, and I frantically filled my time because I don’t know how to rest. In early October, my husband and I were in a horrible car accident where our brand new car was totaled, and the firetrucks had to close the freeway to get us moved to safety. Then, my beloved husband, Mark was diagnosed with cancer and we began the spinning plates act of appointments, tests, treatment and recovery. I seriously underestimated the emotional burden of cancer. At the same time all of this was going on, both of my kids were struggling to adjust to new situations at school, and they often felt the stings of failure, rejection and loneliness that seem to infuse adolescence.
Heartache, loneliness and fear were our constant companions, but at the same time, those things were being constantly beaten back by the love and comfort of God. It’s hard to explain that while I felt so many layers of worry and pain, I also reaped a harvest of gratitude during that difficult year. The accident? We missed being T-boned by an 18 wheeler barreling past us in the fast lane, by less than a yard. Our injuries? Minor in spite of the fact that we were rear-ended at a full stop by a car going 50 miles per hour. The totaled car? Insurance paid more than we needed to get an even better vehicle.
Mark’s journey with cancer was also chock full of blessing. His treatment was completed by an amazing group of doctors who pioneered the radiation therapy he received. The side effects were horrible, but didn’t last as long as they did for most patients. His recovery has been complete and his levels are exactly where they should be. Again, we reaped a harvest of gratitude for God’s faithfulness to our family.
When I think of gratitude, I always think of the Apostle Paul, and how he sang songs of praise while in prison. For many years I assumed that he was just a better person than me. More holy and good. What I now understand is that hard things are still hard, but when our orientation is focused toward the goodness and grace of God, there is also joy and gratitude. We are able to see the nuggets of grace strewn throughout a disastrous situation, and our shortcomings do not determine the outcome.
My faith in God continues to deepen and expand. He absolutely leads me to the best thing, and stays right there through it all. He is generous and good, and He teaches me to be humble and reflective. Rather than transporting me out of the hard things in life, my faith bends me toward the heart of God and I am changed while we walk through them together.
Being changed is not the same as being better. While I have a deeper bend towards doing the kind and loving thing, I still get it wrong sometimes. Well, let’s be honest. I get it wrong a lot. The change is in my direction and orientation. Imagine being lost in the woods and blindly searching for a way out. Faith in God gives me a fixed point, a landmark to head towards. I know that if I always head toward Him, I will most certainly find my way…even if I step in the wrong direction sometimes.
This work is not completed. There is much more I need to learn, and so many more ways to follow faithfully. But faith was given to me, and He is growing it day by day. I’m so grateful for the chance to live more simply, with time to reflect and learn. My fulfillment these days is not tied up in a job, or my success as a wife and mother, but following God in faith to achieve HIS good work.
“And without faith it is impossible to please God; for anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists, and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.” Hebrews 11:6