This morning was our first gathering for the ladies' small group that I am co-leading! It blew my expectations out of the water. To be transparent, leading a small group often makes me anxious, nervous, and even nauseous. But in those moments of weakness and self-doubt, I am forced to lean into grace all the more. I am brought to my knees once again, my heart seeking God's counsel, and I press into His love and guidance. My confidence, or lack of, shifts onto Jesus and I am reminded that I can be a tool for Him to use. Which means that if I am willing, He will do the work! As the ladies began filling the home, some bringing their children and some without, my heart was at peace because I knew that the morning wasn't about me - all that I did was organize and assemble! Which brings so much relief. I was excited to begin this study with women that I spend hours praying for.
I was impacted by Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts, so I felt as though it would be a fitting study for the ladies: I am passionate about it because it talks about the real & painful messiness of life and invites us into a life overflowing with joy, even through the hard and painful struggles. Let's be honest: this journey of life is difficult and often exhausting. Why join a small group and pretend our lives are perfect, and we perfectly serve our families and friends, while we perfectly give thanks in all circumstances? We are imperfect, but we know that Jesus sees us as His beloved children, and He smiles upon us with gladness as we take steps towards Him. "Small groups" are meant to be a place to safely be transparent, to honestly seek Truth, and to be real. So let's be real.
And that is exactly what happened.
I let so many tears drop from my eyes this morning. The first question of the study guide was: When you look back on the timeline of your story, tell about a moment you hit a pothole in your journey of life? Tell about a moment in your life that was hard and painful and looked nothing like a gift. That is a personally vulnerable question! I stated up front that if it was too uncomfortable to share, please don't feel pressure to - but also, share if you feel appropriate. Half of the 16 women present shared a deeply vulnerable story from their life - a moment, or many moments, when pain was present, depression was in their face, and Heaven seemed too far away. Stories shared about hurts from parenting, marriage, addictions, divorce, childhood...it was raw and it was beautiful. Most of them shared exactly how the struggle and trial ended up blessing them! I was grateful for their honesty, giving more proof that Jesus really does carry us through the fire. Living proof sat before my eyes that we can come out of the flames stronger and even more beautiful. Beauty from ashes, people. We all have those bumps and potholes in our life, we all have "soul holes" that need to be filled. I continuously thanked Jesus for the opportunity to be there, among these precious children of His.
As we moved through the discussion, many deep thoughts were shared. How do we remain thankful through the painful struggles? I would love to share with you our journey of conversation:
Grumbling, complaining, and busyness cause us to close our hands and our hearts towards God. [And the gifts He wants to give us]. Being still and surrendering to Him brings calm and helps us to open our hearts and our hands. He is our calm in the midst of chaos! Oh the sweet joy of having access to the Calm.
Receiving the grace Jesus offers AND being filled with grace to the point of overflowing means that we have no room for anything else - especially bitterness and complaining. It removes self-focus. Overflowing with grace looks like dwelling on God's goodness, even in the pain. We know who we are in Christ, because His grace tells us we are His; we are able to offer grace to anyone we come into contact with - even those who hurt us. We are not defined by anyone's opinion except the loving Jesus's!
As we give thanks in the painful moments, we are not giving thanks for the pain itself, but for the HOPE of salvation and for the trustworthiness of Jesus. We are grateful that our pain does not define us, but Jesus does as He looks upon us with grace and pure love, seeing His marvelous children!
Why is it so hard to be thankful when we are going through a time of pain, struggle, or darkness? Because all we are seeing seems dark and painful; we do not see past the struggle. We cannot see beyond our circumstance, therefore we cannot see the good in the pain. The endurance being built, the character being strengthened, the hope deepening. We must look at the gifts that surround us.
Overflowing joy, living life in the fullest way possible, happens when we see each moment as it really is. Without the blinders of self, without the focus of "me." If we can look past self and out the window at the clear blue sky, we can see the good gifts that only a good God can lavish on us. Every moment is a gift; a gift of grace. Even in the painful times. Read the first chapter of Voskamp's book and see that even through the thick of Hell on earth, there is grace. I look forward to discovering ways to deepen my gratitude, which will only deepen my joy for life and my love for Jesus!
What are 5 things you are grateful for?