When Kim asked me to contribute to Sunflower Seeds, she told me that I would be sharing something from my own life experiences around the subject of “hope”. I discussed it with my husband, Mark, prayed about the experience to share, and then recalled how blessed I have been. In my life, I have often taken hope for granted.
Life for the Millwood family is often chaotic. The on-going joke around our house is that somewhere in our genealogy, there must be a Murphy….as is the origin of Murphy’s Law. You name it and we have probably experienced it….near fatal accidents, cancer, job loss, a house fire, a tornado, marital issues,money issues and chronic pain. Three of us….. my husband, my youngest son and I have all had back surgery. If we were superstitious people, we might consider ourselves some of the most unlucky people on the planet.
I wish I could say that I have weathered it all with grace, but I am a control freak. I don’t like chaos and uncertainty.
The most particularly trying time in our lives was when Mark lost his job. He applied for anything and everything to make it. This included mowing lawns, laying sod and fixing irrigation systems for our neighbors and friends.
Eventually, he was hired by the Federal government. The position was over 350 miles away. It was well below his experience level, and paid less than half his former salary. We had no idea how we would make it.
We had four children at that time and homeschooled 3 of them. My youngest was just 3 years old. I was a busy person. As an Air Force Reserve Officer, I was working part-time from home and a couple weekends a month. I volunteered for active duty assignments as much as possible to supplement our income. These assignments were never close to home and my kids often had to stay with my parents who lived 3 hours away. There were many times that I dropped the kids off at my parents (the halfway point from Mark’s job) and then Mark would pick them up for the weekend…..the two of us not seeing each other for weeks at a time. This lifestyle went on for 3 long years. It was taking a toll on our family and our marriage. We were depressed, irritable, and exhausted.
The housing market in Atlanta had tanked. We were upside down in a mortgage and our retirement funds were shrinking . We drained at least half of our retirement and maxed out credit cards. Often times, there was simply not enough money for food and I found myself at a church mission, with our children, getting a box to get us through until the next paycheck. Mark lived on microwave meals and packs of crackers while he was renting a room in a boarding house at his new job. He lost 40 lbs.
Through all of this, Mark’s grandmother was dying with kidney cancer. We were her only family within hundreds of miles. Actually, I was her only family, since Mark was not living in the Atlanta area. Some days began with the kids and I packing up computers and books and heading with Grandmother to the hospital at Emory University for a day of appointments. She and I were close and seeing her slip away was taking an emotional toll on me. Additionally, I was having my own health issues with multiple breast biopsies and physical therapy for another back injury.
I was just worn out…mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually.
I remember the day that I collapsed on bathroom floor and just sobbed. I couldn’t take it anymore. I don’t remember how long I laid there. What I do remember, was hearing a voice telling me to look up, an overwhelming sense of peace….a total surrender, a hope.
I literally felt like I was being scooped up and lifted back to my feet. I knew everything was going to be okay. Maybe not the way I wanted it to be, but okay. I did not need to “hope” for the end to an illness, a better job for Mark, more money, less pain. These things were temporary and that kind of hope was an earthly hope.
How had I forgotten to “look up”? I wasn’t seeing God in any of what was going on in our lives. I just wanted to get to the next level in life’s game of obstacles and delays.
I don’t subscribe to the “name it and claim it” spiritual philosophy….. that if you just pray hard enough for something that God will give it to you. That idea puts us in control. Obviously, the one lesson that I have learned from my life, is that I am not in control.
God is good and he desire is not to give us the life that we wish for, but a life that is even better than we can hope for. He is good all the time, even when life isn’t. I just had to quit looking a circumstances and start looking through them to Him.
Hope for me is no longer the expression of what I want as a desired outcome. For me, it is the confidence of knowing, with certainty, that there is something better coming in the future. It is in sync with my faith. To quote author and pastor, John Piper, “In my life — and I think it is the intended biblical pattern — hope is like a reservoir of emotional strength”. This is a strength that we draw from when life is coming at us faster than we can handle and we take on more than is humanly possible.
The life I have now is not something that I would have imagined 6 years ago. Simplicity is my new dream. However, only having lived through those hard times, could bring us to this point. We tried for so long to keep up with everyone else in Suburbia. It was stressful even in the best of times.
Now, Mark works 20 minutes away in a job that we never thought possible due to his previous health issues. However, dropping the 40 lbs from his microwave diet, led to a health improvement. He went from an stressful office job to being a Park Ranger… a dream job for him . From the years of frugalness and necessity, I learned to sew, grow and process my own vegetables and make bread…..and I enjoy it. The house, that we struggled to keep, now has equity. Although we can now afford the payments, we dream of buying a small homestead.
In our lives, God had placed many people along the way who served God by serving us. It was a huge blessing to see the hands and feet of God in action. Our desire, in all of this, is to be used by God, in a way that would glorify Him, as we show hope to others.
In July of 2013, we traveled to China to adopt my youngest son. If someone would have told 39 year old Terri that she would be the 45 mother of a 4 year old son from China with Spina Bifida, married to a Park Ranger and trying to buy a farm, I would have laughed. It was not anything that I had hoped for. It is better.