Written by: Christine Bracewell
My life has had its fair share of hardships. I lost my husband Rob at age 39 to a rare form of cancer 12 years ago. I was left was three small children to raise and a head full of messages about my inadequacy as a mother and as a human being. At age 5 I also lost my father, 29 days after immigrating form Portugal to Canada. My father was 24 and my mother was widowed at a terribly young age. I was an only child and grew up in a single parent family. My childhood was incredibly lonely. Tragedies! I could share of other terrible calamities that I met with as I grew into a woman.
When I first became a Christian I really believed that I had hit the “jackpot”. “So long pain and suffering! Hello, a nice peaceful God centered life”. As I type this I chuckle now at my naivety. Didn’t Jesus himself say, “In this world you will have trouble”? (John 16:33). I skipped over such verses. I “already had had my trouble”. Troubles were for others; it was smooth sailing for me.
I spent most of my life trying to avoid the storms of life and it seemed that the rudder on my ship took me into rough waters quite regularly. So my next great plan was to abandon the ship I was on. Christianity couldn’t be for me. God hadn’t made my life easier or better. In actuality life seemed harder and God farther away. I set sail on a different ship and glided into calm waters! Of course you know where this is going. I disembarked a ship where the captain loved me and paid for my passage with His very life only to board a ship with a captain who was waiting to see me drowned in those very same “calm, blue waters”!
For most of my life I have attempted to steer clear of the very things God wanted to use to change me and give me genuine peace. As soon as anything came into my life that seemed difficult or potentially painful I would tell myself a story about it. The plot of my stories all sounded like this: God isn’t good, in view of the fact that if he were he certainly wouldn’t let this happen. God doesn’t really love you. You’re not a good Christian since if you were, this wouldn’t be happening to you, and on and on the stories went. The stories I told myself made it impossible to trust God. Avoidance and trying to control became my “modus operandi”. I choice to heed my story instead of God’s story.
How does one turn tragedy into thanksgiving? Truthfully I am not really certain! What I have experienced is that God loves me and won’t leave me alone. For me that is my greatest comfort. The realization that God, the creator of heaven and earth, loves me is so wondrous. Ponder that for a minute. It is either the TRUTH with a capital “T’’ or a terrible lie. If it is the truth, which I believe it is, than it changes everything. I may never know the “why” of my tragedies but I know the creator of all the seas. I can only share what tragedies have taught me about God and His goodness and then hang on to His promises.
Have you ever noted that when you go to the gym and start an exercise program you actually feel weaker? When I have done some weight training while I am lifting the weights I actually feel weak not strong. Lifting weights to the point of weakness is how you build muscle and get stronger. Where had I heard that before? But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12: 9)
After Rob died I could hardly pray and I struggled to hang on. My prayers were barely audible. I had struggled with anxiety for many years leading up to his death and after his death my anxiety only seemed to worsen. How would I raise three kids alone? Didn’t God realize how weak I was? Often, I wondered why God wasn’t doing something. Why had he left me alone? I felt guilt ridden since my faith seemed so small. The bible talks about God being a father to the fatherless and I questioned God’s goodness in taking my children’s father. God didn’t seem like a good father to me. My prayers sounded like this:
“Please God don’t let go”!
“God if you let go I will drown”!
“Do you hear me?”
“I am afraid – I don’t trust you”!
“Do you hear me? Is anyone there?”
That’s my prayer life in a nutshell. Thankfully, God heard those prayers! I felt like a failure as a Christian. Where was my faith? Thankfully God’s love for me did not depend on anything I did or didn’t do! God’s love didn’t even depend on me trusting him, or believing in him! His love for me was real and didn’t depend on me feeling it! Nothing I have ever done or fail to do will change how God feels about me. The bible says that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. He loved me, I had been bought with a price and He thankfully never let me go.
When I could barely hang on He was my life jacket! I wouldn’t drown I would weather the storm with my life jacket firmly holding me just above the waves. The most important thing I learned was to hang on and when I felt like I couldn’t I asked my Heavenly father to hold on to me. “Please God, don’t let go. I am afraid if you do the waves will over take me”. I kept forgetting about that life jacket! Pretty hard to go under the water wearing one of those! That’s where the gratitude comes from for me.
I am grateful that when I go through the waters He is with me. If I ask for his help I receive it. What a comfort to know that. I must not conclude that my ship won’t find itself in a violent storm from time to time or that God will steer my ship around those storms. My ship may even run aground. I can have assurance that he will go with me into the storm. I only need to turn aside and give him permission to maneuver my ship through the waters, no matter the condition of the seas. Ships were never made for harbors. Ships are made to be at sea. Spend time out on any body of water and you will encounter large waves and storms. It is foolish to believe it will only be smooth sailing.
I am not the person I was twelve years ago. God has used this terrible tragedy to bring about real growth in my life. For years leading up to my husband’s death I prayed that God would heal me from my anxiety and now He has. I truly believe God used Rob’s death to heal me. I realize that might sound very strange but it is my truth! I have more peace today than I have ever had in my whole life!
I have also learned that my faith doesn’t grow unless it is tested and tired. Just like I can’t build muscle without pain my faith can’t grow without the pain of trials.
The gratitude comes from knowing and experiencing God’s presence in the midst of life’s storms. Just like you can’t have courage without a fear you must face, you can’t experience God’s presence in a storm without the “storm”!
Today when things come into my life my first response is still to tell myself a story but I have learned to ask God to teach me what I need to learn through my current situation, to make me more like him and to love him more.
My voyage to date has not been smooth sailing but I wouldn’t, even if I were able, have set a different coarse. My storms have taught me I can have confidence in God. God is love. God is good. If I really believe this then I can rest even when the waves crash around my ship.
“The delight which the mariner feels, when, after having been tossed about for many a day, he steps again upon the solid shore, is the satisfaction of a Christian when amidst all the changes of this troublous life, he rests the foot of his faith upon the truth-“I am the Lord, I change not.” – Charles H. Spurgeon – Morning and Evening
Christine Bracewell is a single mother of three young adults, Anthony(23), Nicholas (22), and Julia (18). She is self employed and has recently returned to college full time to study nursing. She loves the life the Lord has blessed her with and is grateful for His provision since losing her husband Rob to cancer 12 years ago.