Like most people, I’ve been through a lot of ups and downs in my life.
I don’t know if my complicated childhood, leaving home at a young age, moving to a foreign country, facing challenging situations, and working with people from difficult places amplifies that, as I have only lived my life and not anyone else’s.
But I suspect the good and bad I have faced in my life is on par with what most people face in life. No more, no less, just unique in the way that each and every challenge, hardship or difficulty is to the person who must face it.
At any given moment in our lives, we have both “good” and “bad” things going, on sometimes more good and sometimes more bad.
Lately we’ve been hit with a series of what you might call “bad things,” but which I prefer to think of as challenges.
In the course of the past month we have dealt with the following.
My daughter Vanessa tore the ligaments in her ankle and had to go on crutches for a month leading us to cancel a long-awaited Easter vacation to the beach.
My son Alex got very sick with the flu for almost two weeks.
Funding for one of our community centers failed to come through one month putting that project into the red.
We got the news that our NGO application was rejected due to changes in how the government is now reinterpreting laws that have been on the books for decades.
I found out that I have some major health issue to deal with including kidney stones that require laser surgery to remove and a tumor in on my thyroid gland.
Yes, we've been hit with more than a few challenges.
I was talking to a good friend on the phone the other day and opened up about some of these challenges. After hearing me list all the things we were dealing with, he asked me how I was doing processing it all and how my morale was.
After thinking about it, I responded that it was actually pretty good.
Sure, I have a laundry list of things any one of which might be devastating on their own, so why was I in such good spirits?
I realized that it was because of all the things that were going well in my life.
Our orphan prevention/community center initiative has really taken off. It has grown not just in size but in depth.
We are running two community centers for some of the most impoverished, vulnerable children and their families in Guatemala through meaningful programs that are having an incredible impact in their lives.
This past year we implemented our full program at the second community center and are proving that the model can be replicated.
Two months ago we started working on documenting our program so that it can be used by others and in the process have completely upgraded and improved every aspect of our Bible, computer and educational reinforcement programs.
After years of working here in Guatemala, doing much of the work on our own, we now have a team of 6 fabulous teachers and the effectiveness of the work we do is multiplied by their efforts leading to 160 children and their families being served in our programs.
The people we serve value the work we are doing and while it's not always easy for them to get their kids to our centers three times a week for 3 hours in the afternoons, we have really high attendance and few children miss a day.
Youth from our programs are growing in faith and getting connected with local churches, which is something that we have been praying for.
We have pulled together a local board of directors for our ministry who are actively involved in moving this initiative forward and giving of their time, resources and expertise to do so.
We have been blessed to see our oldest daughter Julia take ownership of her life and her faith while excelling at college since she moved to the U.S. last year. She just finished her first year of studying industrial engineering and joined the army national guard to help pay for school and is in boot camp right now.
Though we had faced some challenges in the past with our second oldest daughter Audrey, she has really grown in maturity and faith, taken ownership of her life and is actively involved with a church youth group.
The rest of our kids are doing well, both in school and around the home and we have a joyful family life.
So yes, I was facing challenges, but my mind, my thoughts, and my energy are more focused on the good that is happening in my life. As a result, even though we got hit with one thing after another, I was in good spirits.
Throughout my life, something I’ve noticed is that sometimes all it takes is just one bad thing to ruin your day while at other times just one good thing is enough to seemingly make your day.
There have definitely been times in my life when just one of these challenges would have seemed too much for me. So what has changed?
Am I stronger? Am I wiser? Am I a spiritual giant?
I don’t think so.
But over the years as I have faced one difficulty after another, I have come to see an eternal truth at play.
And that eternal truth is God - God is here and he is in control.
Isaiah 41:10 tells us, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
Whether I feel it or not, he is in control, just as he has always been. The only difference is, that I am more conscious in remembering it.
I have the blessing of years and years of seeing him come through for me, provide for me in seemingly impossible situations and carry me through great hardships and bring great victories out of seeming defeats in a way that glorified him and have been a testimony of his greatness time and time again.
While he hasn't always solved the problems in the ways that I might have liked, he has always done so in ways that leave me grateful for his wisdom.
All of this gives me the faith, the trust and the confidence that this problem, on this day in my life God is going to be there for me. He is not going to pick today to retire and leave me to figure it out on my own.
God has been there for me in the past; He is here for me now in the present; and He will be here for me in the future.
God is the same, yesterday, today and forever.
Moving forward in good spirits doesn't mean that all of my problems are solved.
Figuring out how to come up with the funds for our community center to keep it running has not been easy.
Visiting with doctors and specialists, taking what seems like endless medical tests and trying to determine the best course of action for me, getting treatment here, or returning to the U.S. for the procedures is not easy as both options are expensive and time-consuming.
Deciding what is best for my family has been hard. Do I take them with me, or leave Sharie and the kids in Guatemala while I try and get it taken care of as fast as possible in the U.S. is one of the difficult decisions I have to make as I have to consider not just myself, but my family and our ministry.
Starting all over again on the paperwork for our non-profit is discouraging as we desperately need to get that set up to move forward with our ministry.
Yes, just about any of these things constantly threaten to overwhelm me, but they haven’t because I’ve been able to draw on a lifetime of seeing God come through for me and turn to God in prayer on that when I start to feel overcome, and that is what not just pulls me through but, pulls me up.
It’s my perspective that makes the difference.
As Dale Carnegie said:
“Two men looked out from prison bars, one saw the mud, the other saw stars.”
Is there a lot of mud in my life? Sure there is. We live in a broken world with no human cure surrounded by death, destruction, decay, and deceit.
Yet we also live in a world that has life, love, joy, and truth all of which are so generously given to us by our heavenly father who loves us. If we will only make an effort to choose to focus our perspective on that, it will make all the difference in how we handle the situations we are faced with.