It was today, February 2, six years ago, that Mark left. Disillusioned with life, God, people, the world, and marriage, he was determined to ride off in the sunset with another relationship.

It was today, February 2, four years ago that we both shaved our heads-me because it was falling out from my chemo treatments. Mark because of solidarity.

It was today, February 2, two years ago that our adopted son started another emotional spiral that would end up with him homeless, hospitalized, and unwilling to get the help he needed.

February 2 is a marker day in our lives. A day we will never forget for a myriad of reasons.

There are no perfect lives. In fact, life on this side of heaven is messy. Difficult. Challenging. Painful. Hard. If we expect anything different than that, we will be in a  perpetual state of discontentment.

I’m not saying we need to have an Eeyore “woe is me” perspective. We just need to have a realistic perspective. There are very, very good days. Good seasons. Good years.  And there are very, very hard days, hard seasons, and hard years.  I’ve found, however, that we can still learn to “give thanks in all circumstances” like we’re reminded to in I Thessalonians 5:18.

Big or small, the hard parts of life can suck the joy right out of our hearts. So how do we love our life when life is hard?  When life doesn’t go as expected?  When our best laid plans get turned upside down?

What I have learned is that we don’t have to love our circumstances, but we can love how God grows us through our circumstances. 

This is truth we find in Romans 5:3-4, “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces perseverance, and perseverance produces character, and character produces hope.

There is no growth without struggle.

My husband and I have five children. Many years ago when our oldest was in junior high, we got an incubator and some fertile eggs from our local 4-H program.  We watched and waited for those chicks to be born. One day we saw a little beak poke through the egg shell. We had been strongly instructed that once the chick started hatching, do not help them!  Their struggle is making them stronger. His hours and hours of pecking and resting and pecking some more strengthened his muscles. That little chick worked to get out of the egg for nearly 24 hours, but he made it!

And so will you and I.  Our struggles can bring growth if we’ll let God use them for His purposes.

When Mark left, I cried. Who wouldn’t?  But I’m not a highly emotional person so those initial tears were the beginning of growth.  God was tuning my heart to his heart. The Bible says that Jesus was a man of sorrows acquainted with grief.  God grew me emotionally.

When I got my cancer diagnosis. I cried. Who wouldn’t? Again God grew me through that hard season. In addition to growing me emotionally by increasing my compassion for those going through physical illness, I also changed my eating and exercising. God grew me physically.

When our son spirals, there are always tears. Yet each time I learn more about addiction and helping but not enabling. More than anything I learn about control and my tendency to do it. Each time I turn over control to God, God grows me spiritually.

In these hard circumstances, my compassion for others going through hard times has increased.  My dependence on God’s Word has expanded. I’ve learned the power of rest and the value of being still. My faith has been stretched. Hope and love have been strengthened in my soul.

When life gets hard, it’s tempting to ask, “Why?  It’s perfectly okay to ask God why, but we won’t always get an answer to that question.  More importantly, it’s important to ask: What? And How?

WHAT do you want me to learn in this season?  HOW do you want me to grow?  HOW can you use this for your purposes, God?”

Where do you need hope in the hardship?  I’ll be the first to admit that life isn’t fair. Sometimes there are no answers that bring about understanding in the pain. You don’t have to love your challenges. But you can love what God can do inside of you while you walk through those challenges.

Just like a baby chick, He’ll strengthen your spiritual, emotional, and relational muscles as you peck out of whatever shell you’re trapped in.

I can truly say that I loved my life even in the midst of each of these hard seasons because I loved what God was doing inside of me.  I clung to the truth of Romans 8:28, that, “God works for the good of those who love him,” and I found my strength in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”

Today, February 2, Mark is home. Our marriage is healed and I’m stronger emotionally.

Today, February 2, I’m four years cancer free and stronger physically than I’ve ever been.

Today, February 2, our son still struggles and life continues to be hard for him and for us with him. But I’m spiritually stronger and better able to navigate the disappointment and difficult circumstances we face. I’m letting go of control and letting God lead the way more often than not.

There’s not always a happy ending to every story. But there is always the possibilities of a stronger person at the end of every story. As the old adage goes, you can become bitter or you can become better. I choose better and I want to encourage you to do that as well.

I don’t know what you’re carrying today. Maybe your marriage is in crisis. Maybe one of your kids are in crisis. Maybe there’s more month than money. Maybe you’re in the middle of a cancer journey…either your own or a loved one’s. Maybe it’s a health crisis. We all face difficult times.

Whatever you are dealing with, I want to encourage you to grieve what isn’t and adjust to what is.  Then ask God how He wants you to grow and how He wants to use this for His purposes in your life.

Once you do that, stand back and watch God do His best work…because when we are weak, He is strong!