This has been a heavy but fruitful year. A year of extreme highs and lows. In this year, more than any other, I have learned that the concept of gratitude doesn’t always look like fat little pilgrims, eating a cornucopia of delectable delights on a Thanksgiving postcard.
In this year, I have learned that every rose does have a thorn or two, and that the bottle of rose oil, which my wife carries in her purse, is the result of tremendous pressure. The sweet aroma Lindsey loves to place on her wrists and behind her ears required a crushing before it could ever be released.
Right after Christmas, after much prayer and thoughtful consideration, Lindsey and I packed our suitcases (we’d already sold everything we owned) and our two small children and loaded a plane for Alaska. We left behind everything we knew in Alabama: family, faith, and football and headed 4,000 miles away for the job of a lifetime.
We pulled up to our new little cottage and just stared. This was it — we were actually going to live out our dream in Seward, Alaska of all places — a tiny little town in Resurrection Bay. A few blocks in one direction took us to the waterfront and a few blocks in the other led directly to the mountain path. Our little rental home withstood the tsunami from the late 1960’s, but the original hardwood floors still creaked with every step. We had two weeks before I started my dream job. We soaked up every minute, acting as tourists in our new town.
We’d always wanted to go to Alaska. We tried to plan a honeymoon there, but finances wouldn’t allow it. On our fifth anniversary we looked at a cruise, but that, too, was over our budget. Then, out of nowhere, a company had recruited me. They were willing to relocate us, provide housing, and pay more money than we’d ever made in our lives. It almost seemed too good to be true. After a hard season, it was exactly the break my family needed. Though the idea of being four thousand miles from everything we’d ever known was overwhelming, we knew it was the right thing to do.
We lived like tourists for the first two weeks, soaking up our first Alaskan Winter. We were in Heaven with our perfect little cottage: bay in the front, snow-capped mountains in the back. Three days after starting my job, our world began to crumble.
Thrill turned to horror three days after starting my new job. I’ve heard that the wheels of change grind slowly, but when Human Resources decides you are not the right candidate after seven weeks of negotiating, selling everything you own, and moving your wife and two small children across a continent, the wheels of change actually move terrifyingly fast. I was officially terminated two days later. When I received my check, I hadn’t even made enough money to fly us home.
We were left with a hefty rent, a year-long lease, and no job prospects. My wife sank into the couch as I delivered the gut-wrenching news that our fairy-tale was now a nightmare. We didn’t know what to do next.
I had even joined the worship team at our tiny new church… and we had a practice… that night. I decided to go. I remember how numb my fingers felt on the keyboard, how my knees threatened to go weak every time I pressed the pedals. While the worship team cried to God to remember His children through song, all I could do was move my mouth and hope words came out. My heart was broken, my spirit squeezed tight by disappointment and fear.
This isn’t smelling quite like a Thanksgiving feast, is it?
I wish I could tell you that after living in Alaska for four months, piecing work together as it came, then moving back to Alabama, God has shown us His glorious reasons for letting us fall flat on our faces. But I can’t.
My family lives in the spare room at my parents’ house right now, my children’s pallets permanently stretched across the floor. We are doing the stressful work of starting our lives from scratch, again. Lindsey and I are both still processing our grief.
I wish I could tell you that I understand His ways after a year of seeking His face over this painful issue. But I don’t. I have no idea why God allowed all of this disappointment and frustration into our lives.
What I can tell you is that I still find peace in His presence. I don’t know how Romans 8:28 will play out in this situation, but I am thankful today, more than ever, that God has shown me that faith truly is “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1)
In the past year I have learned that our faith is stubborn. Even when it feels very hard to trust, I still look to God for comfort.
I have learned that trusting God doesn’t mean it will always be easy to pray. Sometimes trusting God isn’t a praise song with the full band on a Sunday morning, but rather it’s a stick-to-it-ness that says, I know there is something deeper than my pain and a Power higher than anything I can rationalize, so I’ll give this another shot tomorrow.
My faith isn’t ornate anymore. It’s not as beautiful as a stained glass window or a gold cross necklace. Even so, over the past year, I’ve learned that His grace is stubborn too, as He continues to come and find me in the midst of the mess.
As the weather turns cool and the leaves fall, I still dream of Alaska. It was our dream, and now our dream is gone. But I refuse to give up hope in God. Sometimes, it’s all we have left.
Steve Austin is an author, speaker, and life coach who is passionate about helping overwhelmed people learn to catch their breath. He is the author of two Amazon bestsellers, "Catching Your Breath," and "From Pastor to a Psych Ward." Steve lives with his wife and two children in Birmingham, Alabama.
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