Count it all joy, Part 2

tucson-sunrise-panaramaIn the last blog post I shared that it appears that the Lord gives many of His children in their 30’s opportunities to trust Him through trials. I then listed a number of things that we struggled through in our early 30’s in Tucson, Arizona while I worked in vocational ministry for The Navigators, and we tried to raise our young family. We experienced a unique set of challenges/opportunities physically, emotionally, socially, and professionally. In addition we faced some challenges that were completely foreign to us.

I mentioned in the previous blog that in the 80’s Tucson apparently had the largest witches’ coven and largest group of Satan worshippers in that region, if not the U.S. Part of the training for police officers and the Highway Patrol was understanding and dealing with this lifestyle that included animal sacrifices, and ceremonies around fires in the desert. We even had people who claimed to be Satan worshippers trying to crash our church services by chanting and being disruptive.

For Victoria and me this was a whole new arena for which we’d had no preparation. There is always a little tension between understanding that the Scriptures clearly teach about spiritual warfare and demons, and yet not living life in fear of, or with too much emphasis on that world. There were many nights that Victoria and I would wake up from dreams of battling Satan and feeling as if there was a 100 lb weight sitting on our chests while we called out to Jesus to rescue and protect us. We learned through personal study and teaching at church that memorizing and meditating on the Scriptures and their truths helped in this battle as well as the playing of songs of praise. During that time the supernatural arena became much more real to us, but also less frightening as the Lord helped us lean into and rest on Him and His Word. Over the last few months, as we’ve talked to our adult children, their only recollection of this time is that we seemed to always have Christian hymns and worship songs playing the house.

Looking back I cannot think of an arena of life that was left untouched by the opportunities the Lord gave us over six years there. It took a while to begin seeing the value of those years and I’m not confident that I have mentally collected all of the lessons yet. Here are some of the things we learned that have made us praise Him for His kindness in allowing the trials and in proving so faithful during them.

  • Church and church services became a huge blessing of our lives. Our church was an oasis of encouragement, blessing and hope in Tucson. People didn’t attend because that was what was expected, but because they needed the fellowship and encouragement to step back into the desert of an incredibly worldly city. To this day I have never felt more intimately engaged in nor aware of the soul refreshing balm of praises sung with other believers for His honor and in His Name.
  • There is no substitute for older mentors who love you and care about your wellbeing. (Hebrews 13:7, 17; Prov. 17:17; Prov. 27:17) In 1982 my mentor as well as my boss sat me down at a conference and after an hour of listening to me talk about our ministry and pace, confronted me on the spot in the most firm and loving way. My boss was a former professional hockey player who was a little intimidating, and never minced words, but who also conveyed deep love for us. He told me I was killing my wife and not protecting her by having people and events in our home literally 7 days a week. He told me that God was not honored by that kind of pace, and that He had commanded me to love, lead and protect my wife and family. He told me in no uncertain terms that I was not to have anyone who was not family stay with us for a year and that I needed to listen to what Victoria was telling me about our pace. As a result of my needing to be needed by people this arena was a huge blind spot for me that probably would not have been addressed by me until much damage had been done, had he not spoken to me about it.
  • God is a joyful and abundant giver of blessings. Jeremiah 29:11.  Mt. 7:11 says, “If you, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those (of His children) who ask Him!” While living at near poverty level, as I mentioned in the last blog, God enabled us with the help of my parents and two friends who built our home, to move into a place that we owed nothing on. The kindness of the Lord through them changed the trajectory of our finances for the next 30 years. At the same time another family who owned a third car just loaned it to us for a year without any strings attached. We saw more tangible answers to needs, prayers and even some blessings we didn’t pray for in Tucson than ever in our lives previously.
  • God has a personal intimate love for all of us as His children and even for me as His son. I was struggling under the pressure of many of these challenges, and not sleeping well, and knew that more than anything I needed regular time alone with Him. I just couldn’t seem to want to get out of bed in the morning. I asked Him very simply, if He would help me with that. Shortly after I began waking up early each morning because of an excruciating backache. The only way I could get relief was to get out of bed and stand up. After a few days of this “frustration” it slowly dawned on me that this was the Ruler of the Universe helping His unworthy worm of a son, get out of bed to spend time Him. After that realization and a few more backaches I found I actually looked forward to getting out of bed to meet with this Lord who seemed to want to spend time with me.
  • His hand of mercy and kindness in the midst of the struggles is ever-present. Slowly, in the midst of our struggles, we began to realize that He not only was trying us, but He was awakening our hearts and minds to see Him in the middle of those trials walking with us and undergirding us. Isaiah 43:1-4 and Hebrews 12:1-3, came to have such personal meaning for us during those years.

I want to be careful to say that our trials, needs and His specific response to them are simply our story. We don’t know what is normative about trials, challenges and changes for everyone else. What we have become utterly convinced of is that the Lord is unchanging. The same God who rescued us in Tucson, and who continues to rescue us, is the same yesterday, today and forever. He is the one constant in our lives and in the lives of all of His children, and that He only has benevolent intentions towards all of us. Paul (someone who knows what real trials are) said there is nothing that can separate us from His love Romans 8:35, 38,39.

1 Peter 4:19 says, “Therefore let those also, who suffer according to the will of God, entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.” I cannot honestly say I welcome trials and tribulation but, I am learning to look for the extraordinary, praise worthy God who is in the midst of them.