Lately, I’ve been in awe of how a single person can change the course of someone else’s life. Everyday, we have the opportunity to encourage the people surrounding us, or tear them down. When my life is feeling insignificant and I feel discouraged, it helps to remember some of the people who invested in my life, because it reminds me to stop focusing on myself, and to be a blessing to the people around me. Here’s a quick (and very incomplete) list of some of the people who changed my life, one small act at a time. Who are some of the people who changed your life? Share in the comments!
The teacher who believed I could write, and helped me to believe it too.
The boss who valued my input.
The friend who showed up and cleaned my house when my baby was born.
The friend who taught me how to nurse, when that baby struggled to eat.
The friend who randomly told me they appreciated me, at that moment when I was ready to give up.
The friend who watched my kids, making it possible to run a business and homeschool.
The friend who sat with me, listened, and prayed as I watched our business fall apart.
The friend who sent me a text the night I was feeling like really, no one cared.
The friend who left a table full of friends to sit with me, because there was no room for me at their table.
The friend who gave me a number to a hair stylist; and a babysitter; and key information to help me begin to make my way in a new city.
The man who walked up to me when I was new, and introduced himself. I suddenly had a friend!
The friend who gave me the answer to a problem I’d been dealing with for years.
The friend who showed me the best walking routes.
The friend who drove 15 minutes each way, just to walk with me in the mornings.
The friends who helped us load our house into a 28-foot moving truck.
The friends who helped us move.
The friend who loved me and helped me, instead of walking away when things got tough.
The friend who told me she looked up to me.
The friend who brought me coffee. Again.
The friend who treated me to dinner.
The friend who made me laugh.
The friend who listened without judging, or telling me how I was wrong.
The friend who sat next to me during that hard time.
The friend who sat with me, when my husband was diagnosed with cancer.
The friend who kept my kids during my husband’s horrible reaction to chemo, so they wouldn’t have to see him so sick.
The friends who celebrated my babies with me.
The friend who made me feel less alone in those isolating days of having small children.
The work friend who became a true friend.
The friend who told me it was going to be okay.
The friend who picked me up from the airport.
The friend who danced on the beach with me.
The friend who gave me great books to read.
The friend who loved long hikes and walks as much as I did.
The friend who loved to write, too.
The friend who showed up, at just the right time, to tell me I was on the right track.
The friend whose story resonated with my own.
The Friend who made me realize I am loved, and never alone.
A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity. Proverbs 17:17
I cannot count how many times I have settled down with my journal to pour out my frustrations and dashed dreams, and within a span of a few pages, find my writing shift into something like praise. It’s not because I’m holy or somehow divinely inspired. It’s because God shows up, time and time again, and speaks truth to my heart as I write. I recognize God’s voice by the sense of peace that comes along with it. It’s the sense that I am moving towards joy.
It was October 8, 2016 and our small business was slowly failing. The pressure of constantly meeting payroll, and rent for four commercial spaces, and the $10,000 metal print supply order that we had to place nearly every month, felt increasingly oppressive. I was homeschooling my two children and had a toddler. We were also residential landlords and land owners. The responsibilities were overwhelming.
A babysitter was coming so Rich and I could celebrate our wedding anniversary a day late. Neither of us felt like celebrating, but knew we should. We had limited funds, and decided on our favorite cheap date: a day in Yosemite Valley. We’d have the drive up to Yosemite and back to talk, and in between the drives we knew we could find someplace beautiful to wander.
That morning, I sat on the porch swing on our front porch with my Bible and told God I was sick of the stress of the business. I missed my sisters and extended family. I was tired of not having a church where our kids could learn and grow. I was exhausted from homeschooling, and the idea of continuing into high school felt overwhelming. I prayed an, “I’m at the end of myself, save us now!” kind of prayer…and then got ready to go to Yosemite.
We were exhausted and stressed driving up towards the valley, and as always, our conversation turned towards our business. Rich had ideas on how to downsize and streamline our services. We sat eating sandwiches, somewhat numb to the beautiful vista, and thought up new business plans.
We kept driving, and parked near El Capitan meadow. We walked east, and found ourselves in a part of the meadow where we’d never been, though we’d been walking in that area for 18 years. Suddenly Rich looked at me and said, “I think we’re supposed to sell our house. I think we need to sell our house and move back to our little blue house.”
I agreed. The cost of having a larger home was draining our pocketbook, and it seemed wise to downsize our living expenses so we could shore up our savings.
He continued, “We need to downsize because I think something big is about to happen.”
My heartbeat picked up in excitement, and I felt like he was speaking truth I already knew, but hadn’t verbalized yet. “I agree!”
“I think God is going to move us. I think he’s going to move us to a city of some sort.”
I nodded, my spirit perking up like a dry plant drinking in fresh rain, as these words poured out of Rich’s mouth and into my ears.
“Suse, I think he’s going to move us to Nashville.”
Nashville? Rich had never been to Nashville.
“I don’t know about Nashville, but I agree…I think God is about to do something. It’s like we’re on the cusp of a big change.”
And just like that, the weight of the business; the worry; the angst that had plagued us for months lifted as God gave us a new vision, and a new dream. We spent the rest of the night feeling giddy and in love with each other, and with life. We had an amazing dinner at a little restaurant in a neighboring small town, wondering at what the future held, and for the first time in a long time, we felt a sense of freedom.
“And though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory.” 1 Peter 1:7
It’s the rush of inexpressible joy that keeps me coming back to Jesus, time and time again. That’s what we felt that day in Yosemite.
And the time when we drove home after Rich’s cancer diagnosis, and stopped the car to look at the thousands of stars in the dark mountain sky and suddenly felt full of joy and peace, even though Rich was so sick and the prognosis wasn’t good.
And when our son was in the NICU after being intubated because he stopped breathing for unknown reasons, and Rich came into the hospital room with his face beaming because God had inexpressibly spoken to His heart and given him sudden peace and joy while sitting in the hospital courtyard.
Though I’ve experienced God’s peace in these trying times, one of my favorite places to find God’s joy is in the mundane moments. It’s so unexpected, and such evidence of His constant presence. I recently took walk by myself around our neighborhood. It was twilight and the sun had set. Bunnies were out collecting bites of flowers, and the robins were twittering. I began thinking about my friends far away. I was missing their faces, and praying for them, and my mood shifted from melancholy to being suddenly full of joy…joy inexpressible, as I walked in the middle of a typical suburban subdivision in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
These circumstances; this inexpressible and unexpected peace and joy, is living proof that God is present in all situations. He is constantly working good on our behalf, even when the circumstances are hard. Hard times cause us to lean on Him more fully, and to be more aware of Him and His voice…which refines us. The truth is that sometimes, to be rebuilt, things need to be torn down. Businesses close. Marriages fail. Relationships sever. But God is not done. He is still writing our stories.
“So that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable even though tested by fire; may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 1:6’
I’m 3.5 years past that prayer on my porch swing. We never moved back into our little blue house, but God did move us to Nashville, where I have a fulfilling job working at a ministry. My kids are in excellent public schools. We found a church that has stretched us and grown us, with the teaching perfectly coming alongside us as we began to rebuild our lives. Rich is pursuing his dreams in new ways that are inspiring both of us. It’s a good new life.
Are things perfect? No. There is a lot that is hard about this time. It’s possible to see blessings as curses sometimes…which leads me back to my journal, so He can transform the feelings in my heart into joy inexpressible, once again.
In 2009 my husband was diagnosed with Stage III Testicular Cancer. It presented as a 10cm tumor near his right kidney, and he was extremely sick…so sick, I thought he was going to die. We were parents of two small children. We owned a small business with a staff of 17.
Rich’s cancer diagnosis coincided with the recession of 2008/2009…the time when people were losing their homes, foreclosures became commonplace, and bankruptcy lost some of its stigma because so many people had to file.
My husband grew sicker as the chemotherapy began to do its work of “melting the tumor like butter,” as Rich’s oncologist said. As he endured infections and nausea, I fed him a steady diet of milkshakes and omelets because that’s all he could keep down.
I watched our business’s sales plummet by 40%, and I thought we were going to lose everything. I kept this from Rich, because I didn’t want him to worry. I just wanted him to get better.
One night, as I sat down to journal, I began to make a list of business ideas and promotions to help spur our sales. I wracked my brain, trying to come up with the magic fix that would save us from the plummet. As I wrestled with ideas and tried to figure out how to implement them, I asked for God’s direction…I asked if these ideas would work. I asked for His blessing on them.
I heard in my spirit His still, calm voice:
“You could do all of this work, but the outcome will be the same.”
What do you mean, the outcome will be the same? If I could just do more, or perform more, or come up with one magical idea…things will be okay. I can save the day.
“You can choose to focus your energy on your business, or your husband. You can be up all night programming sales into your website, or you can rest, so you can take care of Rich and your kids. The outcome for your business will be the same.”
At that moment, my priorities came into immediate perspective.
Rich came first. Taking care of him and being there for him however was needed had to be my very top priority.
My kids came second. This was a huge change for me, because ever since I’d had my daughter five years earlier, my kids took the number one position in my life. I realized that God was giving me the opportunity to teach them that we all are important, and when one person is going through a hard time, the rest rally to help lay a firm foundation of love and care beneath him.
I came third. I wrote in my journal, read my Bible and began working out every morning…a half hour exercise video served as my prozac. With Jillian Michaels, I punched, stomped and kicked cancer and all it was doing to our family and life. I got into good shape!
Everything else came after that.
That’s the year I learned how to not do everything, because there physically was no way I could do everything.
That’s the year I laid down my ideas of how life was supposed to go, and instead accepted that God had a different plan.
That’s the year I learned that hard things happen, even if you do everything possible to avoid them. People will ask lots of questions, pondering ways you could have avoided the bad circumstance (What was Rich’s diet? Does he exercise? Is there any family history of cancer? Does he carry his cell phone in his pocket?)…but in truth, some hard chapters are just there to live through, and if you choose to, they will grow you closer to God in ways that easy chapters never could.
That’s the year I learned that, when you stop doing everything, some people will come alongside you and hold your hand, telling you that surviving is enough…and others will be there, reminding you of all the ways you are failing.
That’s the year I learned that my performance is for an audience of one: God. And if I’m listening to Him, and earnestly trying to follow His lead each day, then it doesn’t matter what the outcome is, or what other people think of me…it’s between them and God.
That’s the year I learned that God is my provider…not my business, and not my husband. Gifts and money came from unlikely places, sustaining us through one of the most challenging seasons of our lives.
That’s the year I learned that nothing in this world is guaranteed; that health, good fortune and our livelihoods are temporal. You can’t base your peace or sense of worth on any of them.
That’s the year I learned that the one solid thing I can hang onto is God’s faithful love and peace. Despite all human reason, God’s presence persists through it all, providing each step, one minute at a time. Sometimes those steps are dances of joy…and sometimes they feel like I’m trying to walk with two broken legs. I’ve learned that both types of steps are okay as long as they move me forward, and closer to God.
I never wanted cancer written into my life. But nearly ten years later, I can say that God wove deep truths into my life during that time; truths that continue to echo in my spirit today. Remembering God’s faithfulness and grace continues to encourage me when difficult circumstances come my way. Because They never fail.
2 Cor 12:9 “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.