Discouraged No More

I finally put down the book. But the tears don’t stop flowing. These tears, though, they’re tears of joy. Joy over grace—God’s grace, God’s goodness, God’s glory. Joy overflowing.

I finally finished reading of Alex Malarkey, The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven. Read of his accident, and surgeries, his boldness and bravery, his love for the Lord and for people. I am inspired. And though I’m already crying at this point when I read these words, the tears flow more freely now. I’m already shedding joy in salty, liquid form when I hear of God’s goodness to this boy, and the goodness of His people to this boy, and this boy seeing the goodness of God always and everywhere, inspiring others to do the same.

It hits me why I’ve picked up this book. On more than one occasion have I been compelled to pick up this book, as though there were something waiting to speak to me in the coming pages, or rather Someone, knowing they held a message I needed to hear.

I sat on the porch swing and read of prophecy in 2 Chronicles 20, led there by a concordance search of “discouraged.” Was I feeling that way this morning? Yes. So I needed to be reminded of all the places in Scripture it says not to be. Jahaziel prophesied that Judah would not be defeated by the armies that rose against it. King Jehoshaphat praised God and said, “Have faith in the LORD your God and you will be upheld; have faith in his prophets and you will be successful.” (v. 20, NIV) I remembered how young Alex had prophesied, and how what he spoke of had come to pass. It was enough, this remembrance, to compel me once again to pick up this book. To read more of prophecy? Perhaps, perhaps not. Perhaps what I needed to hear was unrelated. But I needed to hear it nonetheless. Was I sure that something would jump out at me at any given time that would cause me to say, “Aha! This is JUST what I needed to read!” No, not sure. But I knew I needed to be reading.

I said I was discouraged this morning, and I was. Here I am, all talk of writing, writing, writing, lately. How I believe, in part, anyway, it’s what I’m made to do, and I’m ready to pursue it, and just be faithful to write, write, write—leave the outcome to God. So I sit on the porch swing on my day off, ready to do just that—or am I? I set fingers to keys, but nothing comes. So I get caught up. Lies slither in and tell me I’m not good enough, start to choke me. Ungratefulness. Like Ann pens in A Thousand Gifts. It starts to grab hold of me, and I start to doubt His goodness. His gifting me. I try to shake it off. Pray, repent, surrender, submit—be still. Let HIS words wash over me before I try to form my own. Thumb to the back of the Book and refer to every reference that speaks against it, tells me why not to be discouraged: because He is with me. He goes before me. He’s already in the outcome; He already knew of it when He called me. It’s this search that leads me to 2 Chronicles 20, where I read of the faith and the prophecy and God keeping His Word, as He always does. And this leads me to Alex. I pick up where I left off, and read on. Page 204 is where I stop, where I know this is the something that Someone wants me to know:

(Speaking of the countless interviews Kevin, Beth and Alex Malarkey gave regarding Alex’s undergoing the same surgery as Christopher Reeves): “Another reporter with the Associated Press listened as his interview was consumed with my half-conscious son rambling on about the Pittsburgh Steelers. The reporter didn’t seem to mind. He then said something that caught me of guard. ‘You should write a book.’

‘You really think so?’

‘Yes, I do.’

‘Do you have any specific advice about the process?’ I asked.

‘Yes. Work hard and never be discouraged. That’s it.’

Good advice for just about everything in life, I thought. It was on this day that I made the decision to write a book about Alex and his experiences. I had thought about it before, but that AP reporter’s encouragement was the beginning of the book you now hold in your hand.”

The AP reporter might as well have been speaking to me. I couldn’t even muster an unspoken, “Okay, Lord. I get it. Start writing, work hard, and don’t give up. Don’t get discouraged.” Nope. I just let salty joy wash over me freely, flowing, down over freckles and now upturned corners of the mouth that doesn’t speak. But my spirit does, and rejoices in knowing this is just what it needed to know, and in knowing the One who knows just what I need to know—knows me, better than I do.

So, there it is. I’m going to write a book.

In the meantime, I’d like to try to blog more consistently. My aim? Once a week. For now. Keep your eyes peeled? I’ll try my best. And to those of you who have shown your support thus far, thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you. It helps immensely, and means more than you will know. To know that God has used this gift thus far to bless even one of you, blesses me so. It’s why I write. All for His glory. And in the times, like today, that I have been tempted to be discouraged and allow that to keep me from writing, your encouragement to keep going has inspired me to do just that. I’m thankful for all of you.

Even today, as I write, I’ll confess: I’ve been tempted to think, “Do people really want to hear my whining? Do they really want to know about how I’m all down about thinking I can’t do this writing thing? Wahh. Yikes. Grow up a little, Tamara. There are bigger things to worry about.” And there are. Yet I could not write, or I could just not write about this specific thing and pretend like I’m never tempted to get discouraged. But the unwillingness to be transparent is part of what has kept me from writing for so long. And I know that part of the call to write is letting you all in to see. Because if me working through flaws and sin, and receiving grace and forgiveness, will in part help you to do and see the same, then it’s worth it. I must decrease, and He must increase (John 3:30). I was tempted to be discouraged. I was reminded not to be. And I share because maybe you’re tempted to be discouraged at times. I hope that by sharing with you my experience of how God can turn that around so quickly, you may be compelled to allow Him to do the same for you. When you’re tempted to be discouraged, wrongfully angry, vengeful, untruthful, _____________, let Him remind you why not to be? It’s worth it. He’s worth it. And in the end, you just might be all the more inspired to pursue what He’s called you to. All for His glory.

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The Perfect Time to Trust (Isn’t it always?)

I wake up today feeling better than yesterday. My chest still hurts, but even after lying in bed for two hours after I wake up, simply because I can, I can tell I have more energy than I’ve had in days. Maybe the peace of mind afforded by the ER doctors, telling me I probably just have some unknown virus that will simply need to run its course, has afforded me some physical healing as well. I take it in stride, take it as a sign of hope. Maybe another couple days of rest, and I’ll be good to go. Good to return to “normal” life. Not at the pace I was a couple of weeks ago, because things have changed. Not necessarily all for the better. Well? The things that take place don’t necessarily have to be good, or have us feel good about them, in order for good to come out of them. His timing is perfect.

Jackie, this elderly woman I took care of, she passed away. It all came so suddenly and she took a turn for the worse so soon, that we saw it coming but didn’t know when. And when it came, so soon, it caught me off-guard. I thought I’d have more time. I thought I’d get to say goodbye. I didn’t know that when I told her on Wednesday night that I’d see her again Friday night, that it would be the last time I spoke to her or saw her. I didn’t go Friday night. I stayed home sick. And Saturday morning, when I would have been there, she left us. She finally let go. And I didn’t know I wouldn’t get to say goodbye. But there is always grace. When I pulled up the sheet over her at two in the morning that Wednesday night, tucked her in and said good night before I turned the light out and walked back into the back room, I said, “I love you, Jackie.” She said, “I love you, too.”

This morning I awoke, like I did yesterday morning and the morning before, with the awareness that things are going to be different from here on out. But aren’t they always? Sometimes we are just aware of that, and sometimes we aren’t. I thought I’d have more time. I thought that once Fall came and I wasn’t at the Island House anymore, things would slow down and I’d have a little bit more time, but I’d keep working at Jackie’s and at Hannigan’s, and I’d make ends meet. Just like I was busting my bottom all summer to have a little extra to put away. Never mind that I maybe was taking on a little too much. I guess I needed to be stopped in my tracks to realize that. That it’s not just a trivial matter. Not just a, “Oh, it’s no big deal.” No big deal? No big deal to have no time for God? No time to stop and listen and find out if maybe it all is a little too much and maybe there’s something to let go of and find out what that something is, before it has to be stripped of you? And maybe, in part, anyway, that’s why I needed to get some unidentifiable virus that kept me out of work for a week. Maybe work isn’t the most important thing. Did I ever think I would be guilty of being a workaholic? No. It just felt so good to have enough and then some to take care of all my bills, take care of myself. I guess I forgot it wasn’t me taking care of me. Maybe a week of no work and a week of no pay, and maybe going into Fall with half the income I thought I’d be was just what I needed to remember that. That God is the One taking care of my needs, the One providing for me. He always has and always will. Even when I can’t see how it’s going to happen. He always comes through.

And He will this Fall.

I won’t be spending three nights a week on Ledgewood Road, waking up to tend to the needs of a frail, but sweet, clear-minded, eighty-five year-old woman. It was all so new when we came into her home just after Christmas, so many new people in and out around the clock, when she was used to being there by herself all those years. It was hard. It took some getting used to. But once we all did, she warmed up to us. She grew on me and I on her, and we grew to love one another. She’d smile when I came in the door. “Oh, it’s Tamara. I’m so glad you’re here.” And twelve hours later, as I’d walk out the door, she’d blow a kiss and say with a smile, “So long.” And now, after we’ve grown attached and gotten into the rhythm of things, she’s gone.

I’ve awoken to this reality, and I mourn. I miss her. And it pains me to think that even in my mourning, I, too, think about myself. This Fall. Things aren’t going the way I expected they would. I will need to find another job. How can I think about that at a time like this? But I do.

I don’t know what will come this Fall. But just like I thought as I sat on the closed toilet seat in the bathroom yesterday, sat and poured my heart out to my God, “I don’t have to know right now.” I sat and cried and poured out my heart, to a Father who listens. And not in a despairing way, not in a, “I’m not going to have enough money to pay my bills and what if I have to take a job off-island and You just need to show me right now what I have to do!” kind of way. But in a cleansing way, in a trusting way, in a way that’s all new to me. In a way that acknowledges I don’t have to freak out, like I’ve been so quick to do in the past, because I’m not left to figure this out on my own. He’s already got it figured out. I just need to seek the wisdom to know which doors He’s opening, which opportunity or opportunities He’s sovereignly providing. I know He will. He has, time and time again. I know this by now, because I’ve experienced it over and over. It’s about time I start trusting. So I cry tears of gratitude, knowing my Father knows His daughter’s heart, knows its aches and dreams and desires, and knows how to touch and heal and carry and grant them all, according to His will. According to His sovereign wisdom. According to what He knows is best for me, what will bring Him glory in my life. What will make me like Him, dependent upon Him. Because never am I needing to not depend on Him. Never. And it’s times like these that I am graciously reminded of that. It is good to be reminded that I need God. Always. I am thankful.

So when I wake up this morning, mourning and mindful, I don’t have a plan. Don’t have a plan to get out of bed at a particular time, do particular things in a particular order. Just rest and relax and let Him take the lead.

I finally make my way downstairs, make myself some pancakes. Like I used to make for Jackie. Delicious, delightful pancakes. And it feels good to succeed at that, and to have had the energy, for the first time in a week it seems, to stand at the stove and just cook a meal, and not just throw bread in the toaster.

When my belly is full, I sit and crack open A Thousand Gifts. The reading comes slow. Because this tale of coming into thankfulness is a manifesto of sorts. I need to remember my own coming onto this path, this being brought into a lifestyle of gratitude. Because I, too, for so long, confessed with my lips the goodness of God, yet believed in my heart the lies that I wouldn’t even confess to myself I believed: “God isn’t good. He doesn’t love you. He doesn’t have good in store for you, your best interest at heart.” And all the other untruths that were choking the life out of me. I sit now, and I read it slow. Savor it. Let it sink in. And I don’t have a plan. No, “I’ll read until page twenty-nine, and then I’ll write,” or pray, or get up and wash the dishes. No, He is my plan. For today, I live unstructured, let Him be my guide. So I sit and read until I’m compelled to pick up my computer and set it on my lap, and clack keys, write about my own waking up. My own coming into prayers of trust and not wild, desperate, prayers of fear. Are those even really prayers? The asking God to spell it all out for me, all the while doubting He’ll show me, or that He loves me enough to do so?

I feel free today. Like I’m coming into the reality of what it means to be held, what it means to be the little girl clinging to her mama’s skirt. To take a step when He takes a step. No crying out, “God, You have to lay it all out for me, have to tell me exactly how it’s all going to go down, because I cannot stand to not know.” Control, knowledge—ugh, knowledge, that dreaded word. Isn’t it what got us all into trouble in the first place? Knowledge of good and evil? We couldn’t stand not to know what it was like to be like God, and we’ve been struggling to know ever since. Right? Hasn’t that been my cry, my theme, for so many years? “I need to know! I need to know what’s going to happen. I need to be prepared for it.” But really, what good would it do to know? Would I really be able to handle it? Isn’t it just that I really just wanted to know what I wanted to know—how I thought things were going to go? If I had known all that was going to happen, all of the things that happened so differently than how I thought they were going to, would I have chosen that way? Or would I still have clung to my idealized version of how life is supposed to go?

My idea, my way, is safe. Stable. Makes me look good.

But as I take a step back and look at how things have gone, I haven’t always felt safe. At least not in the things that I thought would make me feel safe. I have learned that I am always safe in the arms of Jesus. And I am never safe in seeking safety apart from Him. Nothing can afford me the security He can. Not a job, not a relationship, not anything.

Things haven’t always been stable. There have been times where I didn’t have a steady job. A sure place to live. But I have learned HE is my stability. I am stable when I am founded on the Rock, founded on Him. I can stand still, firm, when the waves crash against me. Because He is always here, and He holds me up.

I have been humbled. Humiliated at times. I haven’t looked good. But I hope and I pray that in the process, He has been glorified. My life is not to make much of me. It’s to make much of Him. And as I look back, I’m thankful. I’m thankful things didn’t go the way I’d planned they would. It’s been worth it to learn those lessons, albeit painful at times. I wouldn’t trade being where I am now, unsure of my job situation in the coming months, and yet at peace because I’ve learned to trust my God. I wouldn’t trade being able to say to those who hurt in the ways that I have hurt, who have feared in the ways that I have feared, “I know what you’re going through, but God will come through. Maybe not in the way you think He should, but He will. And it will be better than you could have asked for or imagined.”

And I can say that, because I know. I never would have expected to be living on Peaks Island, to have made the friendships I’ve made here, to have had the experiences and opportunities that I’ve had here. To be love it here as much as I do. To have learned the things I’ve learned here. To have struggled through feeling like I need to be doing more with my life, and feeling like a failure, and to have learned that I’m right where God has me, doing what He has for me to do. Even if that’s not a “ministry” position, or something you can put in a box, or something you can clearly identify as using your Bible college degree for. And I never would have expected this random guy to come into the deli where I work and ask me to go for a walk, only for him to become a Christian a month later, and for us to be dating a month after that. I don’t know what will happen, but I’m enjoying right now. And even now, as I await the fate of Fall and wonder where the income I need will come from, I know I’m right where I need to be, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

What’s the plan for the rest of the day? I don’t have one. I just know Zhaak is coming over, and we’ll probably make some dinner eventually, but other than that, who knows? And who has to? Not me. 😉