New challenges, new blessings
I’m 34 years old, and I still like opening Christmas presents. Due to magazine deadlines, I wrote this editor’s letter before Christmas, but I guarantee you I gathered all my gifts from Stephen and my family into an orderly little pile and admired them. All new, and all for me.
Most people enjoy anticipating and receiving gifts, material or otherwise. Mike and Amanda Clement, featured in our cover story (page 18), had months to prepare for their new daughter, Molly, born in November after our photo shoot and interview were completed. I had plenty of time to think about mine and Stephen’s new season of engagement, as we talked about marriage for months before he proposed.
Sometimes even unexpected gifts are fun — a surprise party instead of dinner out, or a little “happy” given for no official reason.
Other times, newness is forced upon us, and it is not welcome. That was certainly the case last month when Mississippi State University’s beloved “Pirate,” Head Football Coach Mike Leach, passed away suddenly after heart complications. Bulldog fans have grieved hard — and much of the state has, too. Despite any rivalries, Mississippi is a family at heart, and we miss our family member. MSU faces a new season now, one they didn’t ask for.
They say in order to get something you’ve never had, you’ve got to do something you’ve never done. Maybe it follows that if you’re experiencing a “new” challenge in life, God has something new waiting for you on the other side.
On New Year’s weekend 2012, my friends Brittney and Tonell and I were visiting my mentor, Raines, in my hometown of Russellville, Arkansas. New Year’s Day was a Sunday, so we went to church.
I’d been wrestling with spiritual questions that wouldn’t leave me alone — the same kind of questions that had tormented me before I came to know Christ. I’d recently read a Bible passage that had given me some comfort. Then, sitting in the pew at First Baptist Russellville, I looked through the church bulletin and saw that same passage staring me in the face:
“Thus says the Lord,
who makes a way in the sea,
a path in the mighty waters,
who brings forth chariot and horse,
army and warrior;
they lie down, they cannot rise,
they are extinguished, quenched like a wick:
Remember not the former things,
nor consider the things of old.
Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.”
– Isaiah 43:16-19, ESV
I pointed it out to Raines, and she said something matter-of-fact like, “Well, there you go.” She wasn’t surprised at all. Of course God would give me confirmation that He was indeed working a “new thing” in my life, despite my struggles.
However, those struggles got worse instead of better. Nearly two years after my Isaiah 43 moment, my mom said, “Maybe you should start seeing somebody.” She didn’t mean on a date. I found a good Christian counselor, and for nine years now I’ve been seeing her once a month, whether I feel like I need to or not.
God has surely dropped so many gifts into my lap since I started therapy. Some He might’ve given me anyway, while others have been a direct result of listening to godly counsel. The biggest gift has been a greater awareness of two crucial, eternal facts: 1) I have got to trust in Jesus and not myself, and 2) I can trust in Jesus; He is trustworthy.
I always want to remember these truths, because when I forget them, the ensuing reminders are never fun. But I’m happy God sees fit to remind me, instead of letting me walk in darkness without Him. And I’m happy He lets me experience new challenges so He can bless me in new ways.
I’m no expert on New Year’s resolutions. I forgot mine after a couple months last year. My only tip for all of us believers — whether we’re challenging ourselves in new ways or experiencing new challenges that we didn’t ask for — would be to remind ourselves of the new nature (2 Corinthians 5:17) and new daily mercies (Lamentations 3:22-23) that we have in Christ.
I pray God would help us all walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4), even in the midst of hardship, and that we’d experience new blessings on the other side. Happy New Year!