Silver Linings

I have the words "Silver Linings" on the brain for several reasons. First of all, I've selected that as the theme for my table at the Women's Brunch this coming Saturday. Although I have just begun to attend the Glade Springs Community Church regularly, I agreed to host a table for this event and design a tablescape that reflects my theme. The task intimidated me at first, but I'm glad I accepted this invitation. I have learned in the past that I find the most growth in accepting challenges that force me out of my comfort zone.

I don't have a lot of confidence in my ability to design a tablescape. That is not my gift. I am no Martha Stewart when it comes to presentation. When I entertain, the emphasis is all on the food. Setting an impressive table; well, not so much. I've been told that there will be a vote and an award for the best table. I can tell you right now, I won't win that award. Now, an award for tears...ha ha...I might win that one.

I will be expected to give a short summary of my theme and why I chose it. This is a deeply felt theme for me, but I actually think (hope) I can articulate why I chose it without getting choked up -- primarily because I can be brief.

For much of my life, I have recognized the blessing of tears and difficulties. I have always been aware that my own personal struggles are a process God uses to equip me for helping and relating to others. I've always thought of that as the silver lining to the clouds. Of course, it is so much easier to be thankful for our trials when one ends and we are left with the growth of character and compassion. When the intensity of the pain subsides, we're better able to focus on what we've gained than what we've lost. But when a wound is fresh or we are in the middle of a difficult struggle, it's hard to see the silver linings of our dark clouds.

I am someone who feels everything deeply. I appreciate deeply. I love deeply. I admire deeply. I trust deeply. And I hurt deeply. Sensitivity is such a gift when we are relating to others and their pain. But in our own moments of struggle, being very sensitive increases the pain. (When I say sensitive, I don't equate that with being touchy or petty. I'm talking about real hurts and wounds that are hard to rebound from. I'm thinking about rejection, neglect, and even some of the emotional abuses I have experienced personally.)

Most people, it seems, have a hard time with trust and vulnerability. For some odd reason that I cannot explain, I am the polar opposite. Trust and vulnerability come so naturally for me. I get my hopes up easily. And if a warm fuzzy feeling is triggered by even a small act of kindness, I tend to attach possibly too much significance to it and immediately throw myself out there, making myself vulnerable to disappointment. Sometimes my big hopes get dashed a bit by a different response than I am expecting. Why? Well, John says I'm Pollyanna. I hope and I get excited and I think a miracle is possibly happening. I can be momentarily caught up in anticipation of that. And when it doesn't turn out the way my Pollyanna heart believes it is going to, it's like a big old pin being stuck in my balloon. And sometimes I even wind up feeling foolish for being the way I am. I am so childlike in this way. And when the wind gets let out of my sails (which it does), I am left questioning myself and my judgment. I wonder if I'm an idiot. Seriously.

This scenario played out yesterday in a situation. And I almost let it cast a shadow over my day. Then I reminded myself verbally (in John's presence) that my reaction was prideful. I felt embarrassed that I had made something small into something it wasn't (a miracle I had hoped for). Nobody knows about this situation but John and me. (So if you think you know what I'm talking about based on anything I've shared openly, you're wrong.)  Briefly, I felt stupid. I felt vulnerable. I asked John if I was an idiot for being so transparent and hopeful.

John is very insightful and if I ask for his perspective on something, he'll give it to me honestly. In this case, he told me that he gets a kick out of me because I can't stop myself from reaching out and opening myself up for a disappointing response. His instinct is to protect me from that. And in this case, I think he would have counseled me against jumping out there the way I did. But he said, "You should not want to change who you are. That is a part of you that is not bad. What you need to work on changing is your expectation of a certain response. It shouldn't matter how someone responds if you do the right thing." I said, "My heart really was in the right place." And my sweet, sweet husband responded, "It always is." (I so appreciate that my husband sees past my flaws and into my heart.) In that moment, I could not regret my childlike vulnerability or my Pollyanna hopes. Even though I was still feeling some disappointment.

I am writing about this because it ties in to my Silver Linings theme AND because journaling what I'm feeling will help me move past it. I also always hope that by sharing on my blog I may be able to inspire or relate to someone reading.

I have been feeling so good. (Which is partly why, I think, I allowed myself to go where I went with my emotions in the moment I did.) I love our life here. (Now and then I even sing...Almost heaven, West Virginia....) I am surrounded by beauty and the constant reminder of how awesomely God is displayed in His creation. I find myself being struck by the amazing beauty of this place all the time. Even just looking out at the woods that are currently my "back yard." And I'm surprised how happy and settled I feel in a new place so soon. I've already made precious friends. I'm so aware that God is blessing us and has plans for us here. And I have felt so thankful all week. My birthday Saturday was just overflowing with love and the sweet, affirming words of friends. I had so many meaningful messages, texts and phone calls from people I love and value. I just felt absolutely overwhelmed with positive emotion.

I got up Sunday morning feeling all warm and fuzzy, looking forward to going to church and spending the day with John. I turned the television to a digital music station that plays Christian music as I got ready for the day. And the song "Blessings" (Laura Story) came on. Even though this blog post is already long, I have to share the lyrics. The song is so powerful...

We pray for blessings
We pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering
All the while, You hear each spoken need
Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things

'Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

We pray for wisdom
Your voice to hear
And we cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
We doubt Your goodness, we doubt Your love
As if every promise from Your Word is not enough
All the while, You hear each desperate plea
And long that we have faith to believe

'Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near
And what if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

When friends betray us
When darkness seems to win
We know that pain reminds this heart
That this is not, this is not our home
It's not our home

'Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
And what if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near
What if my greatest disappointments
Or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy
And what if trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are Your mercies in disguise

This song is the story of my life. Obviously, it's not just the story of my life. It's the story of many people's lives because it has connected such a big audience of hearts through its words.

I will never forget a Tim Keller sermon in which he illustrated (so well) how the greatest joys in our lives are birthed out of suffering. That has been so true in my life. My greatest blessings have come through raindrops and tears and disappointments and storms. And I have learned through experience what I initially believed in faith, that I am being equipped by God to inspire, comfort and encourage other hurting people as a direct result of the dark clouds God has allowed in my life. I cannot have the silver linings without the clouds. Just like we cannot have the rainbow without the rain, we cannot have empathy and understanding without pain.

I place a high value on relating to others. I always have. A friend once told me (not that long ago), "You have radar for hurting people. You are drawn to people with needs." John has told me the same thing many times, though in a more humorous way. But if this is true (and I know it is), it's because of the hard things God has allowed me to go through. Happiness is wonderful and I am so thankful for all of God's blessings in my life. But happiness doesn't equip you for anything meaningful. A person who has never suffered pain and loss can bring you a meal. But it's the person who has also suffered anguish that you want to walk beside you in your darkest hours.

As I typed that last sentence, my immediate thought was this...
The person who understands our suffering best is Jesus. There is nothing we ever go through that He cannot understand. BECAUSE HE SUFFERED ANGUISH.

But in addition to having the compassion of our Savior, He gives us each other. God puts people in our lives who know what it is like to hurt and hurt deeply. He connects us with others who have survived difficulties and overcome them. And the way He does that is by allowing us to suffer and face challenges. There is no other path to genuine empathy and deeply felt compassion.

I want someone to be there for me when I need that kind of empathy. I also want to be that person in someone else's life.

That's the reward that comes out of pain. That's the silver lining in the clouds.

If we don't value our God-given role in the lives of others, it is harder to be thankful for our trials. We will see them mainly as tests instead of training camps. I think what has given me the most "pain relief" in my hard times is knowing that what I'm going through will make me a better instrument in God's hands down the road. I hope I can inspire someone else to look at their pain through that lens. Even if only for a few moments at a time. Even when it does not relieve pain, it gives meaning to our suffering.

Believing that God is working all things for my good has enabled me to face many difficult situations with trust and peace despite the outcome. Whether it's a slightly disappointing response to a hopeful moment or the grief of losing a loved one, peace is knowing that God does not allow anything unnecessary for our good to fall across our path. In some way, He is using every experience, both good and bad, to shape me into the image of His Son.

I think this includes my Pollyanna moments. And when push comes to shove, I really don't want to learn how to protect myself better. I want to be a more useful instrument that God can use. Even if it's painful. Even if I occasionally feel dumb or silly. I want to risk everything -- especially my pride -- to connect my heart to others.


BonnieD said…
Dear Shari, I judt wanted to tell you how much your story touched my heart and speaks of me. I love you and want you to know if I can ever help in way, even if its just say Hi, please let me know.

Your loving cousin,
Bonnie Jane
BonnieD said…
Forgive the spelling, I'm trying to type while holding my grandson. LOL
Shari said…
I love you, Bonnie Jane! Hearing from you brightened my day! I so appreciate you taking the time to leave this comment for me. I wish we could just meet for lunch and spend time together! Not because there's anything specific I need, but just because I value you and would love for us to be closer as cousins. Thanks for making my day better. I love you!

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