What We Didn't Picture

From relatively young ages, we all start to picture our futures. What we want to be when we grow up, what kind of person we'll marry, where we'll live, the places we want to see, the kids we'll have, the house we'll live in, the lifestyle we'll follow, and so on. 

In college, that picture of our future starts to come within reach. We study fields we want careers in, maybe we meet our spouses, and the timeline of the next distinctive season of our lives seems to clarify. 

I remember spending many a night throughout those fours years with my girlfriends (and even good guy friends) talking about our hopes and fears and expectations of life beyond the brick walls of that cold Wisconsin campus. As in the years prior, they were visions of jobs, spouses, children, places, and impacts we'd make in the lives of others. It was exciting and scary, but I'm still grateful that it was in an environment that urged prayer and devotion with one another.

I'm grateful because those prayers and moments in God's Word together, brought us increasingly closer and have helped each of us along in life's challenges today. A friend recently reminded me of the things we seemed to gloss over in our thoughts as we dreamed of our futures. 

Because you see, what we failed to picture in our futures were the heartaches. The hard marriage seasons or divorce, the infertility, the loss of a child, spouse or other loved ones, the miscarriages, the financial burdens, the job layoffs, the loneliness, the anxiety or depression, the hard adjustments, the illnesses, the accidents, or anything else that falls under devastation and heartache. It was in that safe bubble of college dreaming that we visualized the happiness. I wouldn't trade that time or even go back and warn myself and my friends, because it was a place of innocence and joy. I think back on it fondly.

Now, however, the reality of those sweet timelines and plans have begun to set in. We do see the heartache and we have no choice but to face it. It's not all a grim view, of course, but with that picture perfect vision slowly morphing into one with sad seasons, you can't help but mourn the vision you once had.

Yet, it's how we face these challenges that will determine the outcome of our lives. In our marriage, we face trials head-on. We don't sugar-coat, and we lean heavily on the Lord. We see the struggles and sad seasons of our friends and we pray, offer a listening ear, support, and love them. We have learned how little we really know about the trials of those around us, how very little we actually control, and how blind we are to the heartaches.

But when we open up and let the people we love in, we create a safe place of vulnerability and honesty. A place where you hear "me too" or "how can I help you?" A place where you can face reality with the strength of many, instead of baring it alone amidst the everyday routine. A place where active prayer and God's Word are shared to remind you you're never alone and His plan is best... even when it's hard to accept it in the present.

Maybe the fantasized picture of our lives would have been the easiest or most ideal by our standards, but isn't it the hard things that stretch us and teach us and bring us new perspectives and understanding? It's a hard lesson, learning to be grateful for the tough stuff, but it's important.

You learn that even when you feel like you're about to fall apart, you don't. You're stronger than you realize. You learn to be grateful for the seasons of peace and quiet. You learn to value the little things, the little victories, and the people who are most important. The very things we didn't picture are the things that give us purpose and help us relate to others who are stumbling through the same storms. Sometimes it's God's way of bringing people together and teaching us humility, mercy, forgiveness, and grace.

How will you face the challenges you never pictured? Who will you ride out these storms with?

For me, it will be Christ. He is my rock, and he is the rock of my marriage and many of my friendships. I will face the trials I never pictured all those years ago, and take from them new perspectives and a kinder outlook. I'll choose (though I'll fail to do so many times) to trust His plan and be a witness of His grace and love. I'll work to be a shoulder for those who need it, and try to offer the same peace He gives to me.

Our trials can make or break us. What we didn't picture can help us grow, or crush us to pieces. Join me in letting others in, and allowing life's ebbs and flows to strengthen you to become a beacon of hope and solid confidence for those who need it.

And maybe by doing so, we'll see the incredible picture He had in store for us all along. We'll revel in the outcome and be grateful for the journey that got us there. Regardless of reality, I know that I'll spend eternity with Him. Today, I'm thankful for what I didn't picture. Are you?