What I’m Singing Over 2014
I think 2013 might be the hardest year I’ve ever had. On the last Sunday of 2012, a prophetic word was given during the church service about the year ahead. The part that really stuck with me was when Laurie (our pastor’s wife who was delivering the word) said, “It’s going to be hard.” She had so much conviction in her voice when she said it and sounded like she was near tears. The end of the word was very encouraging and said that if we would hold on to God through 2013 and keep pressing forward in Him despite the difficulties, He would back us up 110%. Something was also said about Him using the difficult year ahead to prepare us.
Man, has this word proven to be true!! I had an idea in my mind of what the “hard” of 2013 was going to be. I was counting on it being an amped up version of the conflicts that had been present in 2012 and prior (which mostly centered around relationships)….but my interpretation of what the word was referring to was totally off!! The hardness of 2013 went in a totally unexpected direction and, among other unexpected turns, brought many deaths, five of which hit particularly hard. The first was on January 31 (our youth pastor’s wife, Debora Bunch, who was only forty years old), the second was on April 8 (my sister’s best friend, Tara O’Neal, who was thirty-two), then came Suzan and Stan on September 29 and October 6 (Suzan was my mom’s cousin, and Stan was my uncle – my mom’s brother), and finally, a dear family friend, Joey Lathan, on December 23.
Needless to say, I’ve probably thought more about death this year than every other year combined. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, either. But it brought a heaviness to 2013 that I don’t remember ever having before, at least not for this long. God has definitely been my refuge this year, and I feel like I’ve just hidden myself under His wing. One reason these losses hit so hard was because they each were too young to die (from my perspective). I personally am not ready to even think about someone dying unless they’re at least 90. 🙂 So 40, 32, 49, 62, and 44 stung really badly. But I’ve certainly learned some things from all of this. For one, I realized that I had been counting on some things being guaranteed that, in actuality, are uncertain. I would have never been able to verbalize it, but I see now that in my heart I had always believed that “C” is the only possible and only correct outcome if a person has done “A” and “B.” God-honoring people are supposed to live long, healthy lives. Fervent prayer should always yield a miracle that brings the happy ending… But sometimes, life doesn’t work out that way. Sometimes we are left with gaping holes in our hearts that only God’s presence can fill. And even when he binds up our broken hearts, it doesn’t mean that we suddenly understand why the event happened. What it does mean is that we are convinced to the core of our being the He does love us, does know what He is doing, does have a beautiful plan in place to redeem all that’s gone wrong on earth, and does give us supernatural grace to continue to trust Him and to move forward in spite of our questions.
My cousin, Barry (Uncle Stan’s son), posted something recently on facebook that touches on this. He said, “Learning to orient myself to live full hearted in a world where we perish like dust is difficult.” How do we do that? It’s a question I’ve wrestled with this year. How do we live fully and enjoy the people God has put in our lives despite our awareness that our earthly lives are all coming to an end eventually? My only answer for that is that we must stay connected to the Holy Spirit, the Life-Giver. He’s the One who brings streams in the desert and life to the dead and dying.
A truth that touches on this is something I read by C.S. Lewis years ago. I loved it when I first read it but now have a deeper understanding of it and appreciation for it. He said something to the effect of “Only those who have stared death in the face and tasted its despair, darkness, and emptiness can actually live and truly laugh and have genuine joy.” He expounded so beautifully the way only C.S. Lewis can, and his point was that only those who have come to grips with the gravity of life here on earth can experience true light-heartedness and supernatural joy. When those people laugh and enjoy life, it’s real. It’s very different from the ignorant joy of a child who has yet to learn the sad realities about life on earth. They’re fully aware that life on this side of heaven is hard and death stings and we are left with questions – but are even more fully aware that God has met us in these lowly places with a redemptive plan that supersedes our earthly experiences. We can still laugh and live fully, in spite of losing people we love and in spite of our awareness of our own mortality, because we know that life on this side of heaven is only the beginning of the story. We have an eternal “happily ever after” to look forward to. (And just to be abundantly clear, I’m talking about those of us who have come into right relationship with God through Jesus. Have you done that?? The invitation is open…)
So after this past year, I am different. My heart has been changed for the better after 2013. I’m learning to walk in peace and total trust in God’s heart toward me in the midst of uncertainty. I’m seeing, too, how life on this side is a beautiful mixture of very hard, sad things and unbelievably wonderful things too. We don’t experience just the bad or just the good. We have to experience both, and oftentimes, good and bad are happening simultaneously. I remember feeling this strongly as I was flying out to California to meet up with Andrew for our anniversary trip. My heart was heavy part of the time as I thought about Tara being gone (it had only been a little over a month since she died)….and yet, I was thrilled to finally be going to California and to be celebrating five years of marriage with Andrew. It’s amazing how a heart can be heavy and happy at the same time!
I’m also learning to see life and loved ones as gifts. Rather than holding resentment against God over someone dying sooner than I thought they should, I should thank him for generously giving that person life in the first place. We had the gift of Debora for forty years, the gift of Stan for 62… and of course, the gift of our own lives. God wasn’t obligated to bring any of these people into our lives or to create any of us in the first place….yet He did. What an amazing gift!
Being close to so much death this year has also helped me to loosen my grip on dreams in my heart and things that I want to see God do. I still desire all those things…but I’m opening myself more and more to absolutely whatever God wants to do with my life. It’s His story, not mine. I also feel an urgency to stop waiting on the “right” conditions to pursue things God has put in my heart. We tend to put things off and put things off. What are we waiting for?? Realizing this is what helped push Andrew and me over the edge to commit to a mission trip in Nicaragua in 2014. I’ve wanted to go for so long, and there’s never going to be a better time than now. We are so excited about what God is going to do on the trip!
In the midst of 2013’s hard stuff, we’ve also experienced a lot of wonderful things, too. I began pursuing my seminary degree full time in January, we finally got to go to California together and hardly had to pay anything for it, God has continued to give Andrew favor on his job, and God brought me through a great first semester of Greek, not to mention some very personal desires of mine and Andrew’s hearts that have been met this past year. God is good! He has ministered to us as we’ve walked through hard circumstances this year and has showered us with His goodness along the way.
Over the last several weeks, I have felt the Holy Spirit renewing my excitement and giving me a sense of expectation for 2014. It’s been so refreshing to feel this way again. Until these last few weeks, I hadn’t felt this kind of excitement since before Debora Bunch died. I believe God is going to do some truly awesome things in 2014. This song is my prayer over the new year. It’s so anointed, and I love how God uses other people’s gifts (in this case, Kim Walker Smith’s) to give voice to things that are deep in our hearts. I encourage everyone to soak in this song and get it into your spirit for the coming year!