Upon occasion, when a string of life sucks circumstances has happened one after another to me and/or my loved ones, I’ve referred to that period of time as a “Job Season.” I think most people would agree:
This entire year (2020) has been a “Job Season.”
Just when we think things might be looking up, another wave crashes over our collective head.
- Wildfires in California
- Wildfires in Oregon
In my experience, when life sucks, the best thing you can do is look for—or wait for—the meaning of the moment or situation to reveal itself. The proverbial “silver lining.” After five decades on this planet, I’m now pretty much a professional at utilizing this particular coping mechanism.
If you read this blog post, you know Tony Bear and I are not home maintenance pros. It took us 19 years to get around to remodeling our one blue-tiles-pink-bathtub-and-commode bathroom. The same contractor then did a stunning job renovating our painting-the-cabinets-ourselves-when-we-moved-in-was-a-bad-idea kitchen. Two years ago when we asked him to tackle all three of our porches—which were basically rotting—he was not available.
We found and hopped on the schedule of another renovation team, but they flaked on us after we waited an entire year.
Thankfully, last winter, Tony saw our contractor friend at the post office, and he said he’d be available when the weather warmed. The gorgeous results exceeded our expectations. Though we originally were uber-bummed about the year-long delay, we are now super thankful for it.
Due to the pandemic (I call it, The Great Pause.), my employer—the nonprofit Libera—could no longer meet in-person with the women or teens of West Virginia. With in-person groups being how we listen to and equip ladies, what would our future be during quarantine?
After attending my first Zoom church meeting, I immediately knew, “Libera should do virtual groups!” The surprise benefit of offering Zoom Libera meetings was being able to reach the entire state of West Virginia, all 55 counties, from the comfort of our own homes. Instead of slowing or stopping the work we do, the pandemic significantly fast-forwarded our progress.
As you may or may not know, I have a number of manuscripts I’m working on right now. Me and everyone else. With so much time on their hands, writers are submitting more projects than ever before. Which makes the acquisition of literary representation and publishing deals more competitive than it’s ever been.
Realizing this, I started sending out my most polished manuscript to writer friends to garner feedback and hopefully enthusiastic back-cover endorsements (aka “blurbs”). One writer friend told me, “This story is so moving and powerful. I couldn’t put it down.” She begged me to keep pitching, keep querying.
Her encouragement led me to send my manuscript to an acquaintance who happens to be a big-deal author. Thinking that he just might have time to read it—because, well …The Great Pause—I sent it off to him. He read it in 24 hours, loved it, and agreed to craft a blurb for the book when the time comes.
Those “stamps of approval” were exactly what I needed to continue to do the hard work of birthing a book. If there’d been no pandemic, I’m not sure I would’ve taken those steps.
Also in the life sucks category is the fact that:
Monday was my mother’s death day.
As such, I’ve recently been pondering the circumstances of 2018, her final year.
I’m so thankful a friend suggested I read Being Mortal* by Atul Gawande. Gawande’s wisdom equipped me to support and advocate for my mother when her health began to fail.
Gawande’s recommendation to pursue life quality over life quantity prompted me to tell a young and aggressive surgeon, “Absolutely no radical surgery for my mom. She’s 86, weighs 80 pounds, and cannot currently swallow food. There is no way this is a good idea.”
It was a small win, but a few days later, I would lose when:
The hospital stole my mother from me.
Due to a failure to recover well following an exploratory procedure, Mom was hospitalized. Due to our state’s opioid crisis—and the subsequent reluctance of many physicians to be generous with pain meds—my mother spent that night in excruciating pain. Thankfully, a young nurse, concerned that Mom might not make it to morning, called me in the middle of the night to come to her bedside.
Early the next day, after Mom’s pain was finally, mercifully, managed, I left to feed her cat and pick up breakfast.
I never spoke to my mother again.
In an effort to keep Mom from walking herself to the bathroom, she was given an increased dose of morphine. She never spoke again. Never woke again.
I was furious. Devasted. For her. For me.
I stayed at her side in her cute senior living apartment for eight days, keeping her company as staff and hospice workers came and went. And then Mom was gone.
Looking back, I realize:
Going quietly toward the light after eight days is way better than lingering for eight weeks, months, or years.
Our final week together was beautifully peaceful (after nearly a lifetime of conflict). And so I chose to focus on that peace instead of going to war. With the hospital.
Not only do I have the satisfaction that I served my mother well during her final years, I also know I grew immensely during that time. Whenever I dared to think, “Life can’t get harder,” it did. And I met each challenge head-on. With prayer. And lived to tell about it.
There was a time when I naively thought my most difficult years were behind me. Surely life would be more than kind to me after my season of familial sexual abuse. Wrong.
A friend texted me a really tough question last week.
About my abuse.
“Have you ever asked God why you were abused?”
Yes, I texted back. More than once I’d asked him, “How could you be in my pink bedroom with M&M green shag carpeting every time he came in and not do some signs, miracles, or wonders on my behalf?” For the longest time, I heard nothing.
A few years back, though, when I prayed the question again, I
heard felt an answer.
“I was there, Beloved. Every. Single. Time. And please know, I hate what happened to you. Every. Single. Time.”
On another occasion, when I prayed about the incident again—because this kind of stuff sticks with you—I received additional clarity.
“Diane Sue: I have known you from before the earth was created. I knew what would happen during every second of every single one of your days. That you would find me, love me, and desire to bring me glory.
“I also knew I would provide you with the resources and strength to survive the experience. And heal from it. That you would use your ashes to bring beauty to the world, to help others in a similar circumstance. And by helping them, you would bring me glory.
“I’ve always known you could handle it, Beauty. Because I created you to handle it.”*
I treasure that revelation, knowing my pain will not be wasted.
My advice to anyone in a life sucks season is to ask two questions.
- Is there anything good in all this muck and mire?
- What can I learn from all this muck and mire?
Looking back on your life,
Have any of your great disappointments led to beautiful opportunities?
Perhaps one of your worst life sucks experiences resulted in a moment of great joy. Childbirth is a picture of this. The difference being, with childbirth you know something good will come of your pain.
More often than not, though, you’ll have to wait a while—maybe even years—to find out the “silver lining” behind the difficulty, the suffering.
In the meantime, try to hold fast to the saying made famous by Franciscan friar and spiritual writer, Richard Rohr:
The horrible and the heavenly.
*Update: I’ve been thinking, and I’ve been listening to some messages on the “life sucks” topic, and I want to add a note to this post. Because I realize the message I received from God might wound or infuriate some readers. It was my experience, but that’s not to say it will be anyone else’s. Trauma and tragedy don’t always end in an explanation, or redemption. Perhaps a better place to land is, “There is no guarantee God will fix your life or make sense of it. What is guaranteed, however, is that God will be with you every step of the way.”
If you’d like to hear more on this topic, I recommend you listen to this podcast episode. I love this quote near the end:
“Life is so beautiful. And life is so hard. And the two don’t cancel each other out.” –Kelly Corrigan