"Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness."
Candlelight flickered in the lanterns on our deck as close friends sipped their last drop of a drink and munched the last bits of homemade bread and cheese.
"You all have been to hell and back the last couple of decades."
"How did you make it through in tact?" a friend questioned after a long evening of telling stories and reliving memories of some of the challenges during our years as a family.
(This is where the title of this blog came from, as you will see. Excuse my language, but it seemed our friend had aptly understood some of the stories he had drawn out from us that night.)
Often, people say to me, "Sally, it must have been easy for you to hold all of those ideals. Seems your children just responded because it was their personality to do so."
Having heard this so many times in their own lives, the Clarkson kids, just shake their heads and wonder how anyone thinks ideals come easily. I could write quite a list of life-challenging issues that have, at times, broken our hearts, caused us despair, wreaked havoc in our family life and of course tempted us to quit our ideals.
Yet, it is true that we have been a blessed family and the glory came from walking each day of life together holding fast to the promises we found in scripture.
When Joy was growing up, so much younger than my older children, it seems we had so many years of depressing circumstances that I thought she was going to be emotionally damaged from so many discouraging seasons. Raising a child with innocence when the issues flying around are hard held us in tension each day.
Later on the night our friend had talked about us "walking through hell," Joy and I were out on an evening sunset walk.
She remarked, "Mama, sometimes when I hear all of the stuff you and Daddy had to live through during my growing up years, I am amazed at how you made it thorough it all. But when I look back on my memories, I think you were making picnics and parties all the way through "hell" and lighting candles in each step of darkness to bring the reality of God's presence into our lives. I remember those years with such sweetness."
Somehow she relieved some of the guilt I had felt and carried for many years. There were so many times I had wanted to apologize to her for moments of despair, weariness or exhaustion during her "little" years. Yet, God's grace had covered over some of my dark feelings and when I sought to practice joy in the midst, God took my little efforts and made them enough.
I think sometimes mamas carry guilt for what is normal life in a fallen world. We will never be able to make the world a "Disneyland" experience for our children, but we can make our home a place of light-giving.
To dispel darkness in our lives by faith, I practiced many little "light" habits
The reason I lit candles every night at dinner, and put on music was that I wanted to bring a memory of beauty amidst our difficult days.
The reason I rubbed their little hands with lotion and told them stories in which they were the heroes at bedtime was that I wanted them to have a memory of love and hope that day.
The reason I would start each day kissing their little heads and telling them what a blessing they were to me was to help my spirit live into what I believed they were--a blessing--but didn't always feel.
Staying up late into the night with generous hearts of encouragement to listen to our teens and to help them learn the realities of the world and its challenges gave them a place to talk about every issue, to share every secret.
Sometimes we think that our children will not be ok, because our days are sometimes filled with stress and discord which make us feel dark inside. The reality is that all of us have fallen places in our lives and have difficult issues that we never imagined.
The issue is not if we have hard times, but how we choose to see them. If we see them as opportunities to trust God, to bring His grace into our lives, to teach our children and friends how to light a candle in the darkness, then these days will be a work of faith that honors our precious Lord and shows His reality.
Our testimony is not in the great feats of faith, but in the sacrificial moments in every day life when we choose courage and joy.
But, I know now, that in spite of the days I yelled or was impatient or down, my children most of all remember my love, my desire to cultivate a dancing heart amidst soo much.
Owning my Life meant to perceive myself as:
Bringing light into darkness (You are the light of the world.)
Bringing savory into their mundaneness (You are the salt of the earth.)
Bringing love into discord and making peace when I felt like complaining. (They will know you are my disciples by your love--even your children will know by your love.) I was not perfect at loving, and made oh so many mistakes. But I also learned to say "I'm so sorry."
What were the lessons learned from all the many, many difficulties?
Our children learned how to be warriors in a difficult world because God allowed so many challenges in our lives and we worked through them as a family. They saw us pray, work hard, walk by faith and seek to believe in the light while walking in the darkness. Now they have a pattern in their own lives to follow from memories of walking through these times together.
Heaven became a place of our hope, while we grew in our understanding that "in this world you have tribulation, but take courage, I have overcome the world." We began to realize that we would not always find justice in this world, but that God's goodness, love and mercy saw us through each season.
Compassion, humility and sympathy was a gift we all learned because we needed it so much and it helped us to see the need in others more quickly than if we had experienced a perfect life.
Somehow, there were so many times we had to beg mercy, help and guidance from God, that we all saw our insufficiencies and were even more grateful for understanding we would never be alone and that God, who answered our needs so many times, would answer again.
Today, we see darkness of this time of history invading so many areas of life. Yet, it makes this a perfect time for us to be those who celebrate God's reality in the midst of darkness, to be those who spread hope and cheer in the moments we are tempted to despair, that we practice each day noticing the sunrises and sunsets, the stars, the blooming flowers and soft fluffy clouds amidst the mundane demands of our weary days.
Women have such capacity to bring joy amidst each day to say, "This is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it."
Heroes are made in the quiet moments of life when courage is chosen, generosity of faith is practiced and when we learn to celebrate life each day as we journey, ultimately toward heaven.
This is a small part of what it means to Own Your Life--to bring God's light and grace into each day of the puzzle of your own life.
We will be talking about so many personal life issues like this in the Own Your Life Webcast on Thursday evening. I hope you will be able to join me and hundreds of other women as we share in these heart issues together.
And remember, those of you who register for this webcast, (even if you cannot see it until later), will receive the free printable of the pdf of my new guidebook and Bible study guide, a $10.99 value, and over 150 pages of new stories and material.