Thriving in Trial
Laying a Foundation
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
Isaiah 43:2 (NIV)
You never know when you’re about to face trial. If only trial would call you up and warn you when it was coming into your life.
“Hey man! It’s your old friend, trial! Yeah! It has been a while. How’s your mom and them? Good, good! Hey listen, I was thinking about moving in for a bit starting on the . . . . hmmm . . . let’s see . . . the 13th of this month? How’s that sound? Your calendar clear? Ok great. We’ll see you soon!”
If only it would happen like that. Then maybe we could prepare for adversity. Then maybe we could, as my friend Pastor Levi Lusko writes in his book Through the Eyes of a Lion, “train for the trial we’re not yet in.”
You never know when you’re about to face trial.
You’re going along, operating life-as-usual when, BAM! Trial and his first cousins Pain and Sorrow smack you in the face. No matter what the trial is—death of a friend or family member, loss of your job, divorce, betrayal from a confidante, foreclosure on your home, strained relationships at your work, abuse or neglect from a parent—you and I will inevitably face trials in life. Jesus said it this way in John 16:33:
“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (NLT – emphasis added)
Adversity is on a sneak attack mission for our lives. We face a very real enemy—the ruler of this world, the devil—who has a singular focus to rob life and joy from us. Jesus said this in John 10:10:
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (NIV)
In these two verses Jesus warns us:
You and I are going to face trial
The “thief” is out to steal your strength, kill your joy, and destroy your God-given destiny.
But He also declares we can walk through these trials with peace and life. But not just a normal, mundane life. He says He came so that we could have life to thefull. This is a powerful promise! That even though we face trials of many kinds, in Christ we don’t have to merely survive trial, we can thrive in it! On the other side of the brokenness we experience, we can see both benefits and blessings.
When my wife was murdered in November 2015 my proverbial legs were cut out from under me. In my book, Nothing Is Wasted: A true story of hope, forgiveness, and finding purpose in pain, I chronicle the journey of healing over the first six months after she passed. It certainly takes more than six months to fully heal from something as traumatic as walking in to find your wife struggling for her life on your living room floor. But the first six months proved to be massively instrumental in my healing process. Now almost two years later, I’m still walking a journey of healing but I can attest to the truth that in Jesus we can have peace, we can have life to the full, and there is blessing that comes from brokenness.
Nothing is Wasted was written as a memoir. In it the reader gets an inside look into my thoughts and experiences as I walked out the first six months. It reads much like a narrative. Writing the book forced me to reflect on and identify the key components God brought into my life to aid in my healing. While I wrote the book, I noticed ten major themes—or pillars, if you will—that led to my healing. In May of 2017 I started a podcast called The Nothing is Wasted Podcast. In the podcast we have conversations with people who have walked through fire and come out unburned. I’ve been fascinated by their stories of resilience in the midst of adversity.
As I began discussing with these people and others who have journeyed trials of various kinds and bounced back in a healthy manner, I noticed these same ten things were also prevalent in their lives. These people were not just surviving, but thriving in their trial and each seemed to demonstrate these same pillars in their life.
This eBook is a straightforward instruction manual to read as a companion to Nothing is Wasted. It is both a handbook for training for the trial you’re not yet in, and a Survival . . . uh Thriving Guide in the throes of trial. Think of it as the building plans for a life that stands strong in the midst of the storm.
Before we dive into the Ten Pillars I need to lay some foundation for you. If you and I were going to build a model of the old Parthenon, the iconic Greek temple where pillars surround the perimeter and prop up the stone rooftop, we would first lay a strong foundation. The same is true for our lives.
So let’s begin by pouring four corners of a strong foundation for healing and thriving in trial.
Corner One: The Cornerstone
You can’t operate in POWER without connecting to the POWER SOURCE
My late wife, Amanda, and I maintained a long-distance dating relationship for over two years before we got married. She was in school in Pensacola, FL and I was in school in Central, SC. I remember she called me up one evening because she was having issues with her printer and needed to print off a term paper that was due the next day. As a guy who loves to troubleshoot and fix things, I was geeked out that she actually wanted me to fix something in her life and that she wasn’t just calling to have me listen to the problem (come on husbands, you know exactly what I mean). So, as if I were some IT Support Director for Hewlett Packard, I confidently began leading her through troubleshooting techniques beginning with what I thought would be the first question.
“Is the printer on?” I asked.
“No, that’s the issue. I can’t get it to turn on.” She replied somewhat perturbed. So I went one step back in the troubleshooting process.
“Well, is it plugged in?”
“C’mon, Davey. Of course it’s plugged in. You think I’m an idiot?” She huffed sarcastically. I could tell this printer issue had her uncharacteristically frazzled.
“Ok, ok. Sorry, I just wanted to be sure.”
After about fifteen more minutes of offering some suggestions while frantically searching online for the PDF manual of the printer, I heard on the other end of the line, “Uh . . . wait. Hehe . . . I think I got it.”
“What was it?” After spending all that time nearly beating my head against the phone in frustration I was curious as to how she was able to fix it so quickly.
“Nothing! Don’t . . . Don’t worry about it! It’s working now!”
“Amanda, seriously, what was it?”
She paused a moment and then whispered sheepishly. “It wasn’t plugged in.”
I couldn’t believe it! She was trying to power up a printer that wasn’t connected to the power source! Now, I know that seems funny and ridiculous when it comes to electronics but it becomes a sobering illustration when you think about how often we do this in our own lives. How many times do you and I try to operate life in power without being connected to the power source—Jesus?
In Ephesians the apostle Paul writes that God is able to do “immeasurably more than all we could ask or imagine” in our lives . . . “according to his power at work within us” (Eph. 3:20 – emphasis added). You see, without Jesus’ power at work in us, we have no hope for healing. On top of that, Paul just said that Jesus is able to do “immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine.” There it is again! We are able to not only heal from hurt, but we can thrive as we move through it!
Jesus is the “Great Physician” and the “Master Surgeon.” He will heal us if we lean into His strength and His power. This means Jesus can’t be an after-thought in this process. If you and I are going to thrive in life through both our peaks and our pits we have to operate first from the power of God’s Spirit inside of us.
If you’re a Christian, when you made the decision to receive Jesus’ offer of salvation and forgiveness of sins he made available to you on the cross, He immediately put His Spirit—the Holy Spirit—inside of you to encourage, comfort, help, and convict you. Healing and thriving only comes from letting His Spirit guide and direct us, and asking Him for his powerful healing touch.
If you’re reading this and there has never been a moment when you have received Christ as your Lord and Savior, you can try all you want to implement all ten of these pillars in your life, but they will not stand the test of time. You’ll be striving in your own effort, white-knuckling your way to an incomplete mending, and you’ll never experience the full life Jesus promises to a believer. Jesus called Himself the cornerstone of our lives. If you take out the cornerstone of a building, the entire structure caves in. If you remove Jesus from the foundation of your life, everything will collapse.
If you have not received Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you can do that right now. Just stop reading and talk to him! Tell Him you need him to save you, to forgive you, and to come into your life and help you! If you need to, call a friend you know has a relationship with Jesus. Tell them you want them to show you how you can receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior!
Seriously. Do it now. Don’t delay!
Ok! If you just prayed to receive Christ, congratulations! You just made the greatest decision of your life! Keep reading because throughout this eBook, I’m going to give you powerful next steps you can take to grow in this new relationship with Jesus.
Corner Two: Driving through the Windshield
This trial doesn’t DEFINE you . . . it just MARKS you
One of the biggest hindrances to healing I see in people is their inability to move past their past. Now, believe me, I understand it’s tough to not let your past define you. After all, our past does so much to shape our present. Who we are—both good and bad—has been forged by experiences and decisions of our past. And I am by no means diminishing what has happened in your past. But what I am proposing is that you leave your past in the past, because focusing on the past does not give you a clear view of the future.
When you drive a car you look forward, not backward. 99.9% of your drive time is looking through the windshield at what’s coming, not looking in the rearview mirror at what’s passed. If you and I are going to get to the destination of healing God has for our lives, we cannot be distracted by what’s passed—no matter how much it hurts and no matter how easy it is to linger in it. The apostle Paul writes this in Philippians 3:13-14:
“But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (NIV)
I will never forget the day I changed my social media profile on Instagram and Twitter. It used to read, “Follower of Jesus, Husband to @amandagrace, dad to Weston James, Pastor of Resonate Church . . . Whatever it takes . . .”
This was the statement that defined my social media presence for a long time . . . even months after Amanda passed I refused to take down the “husband to” portion. One day I was perusing social media and looking at the profiles of people who had commented and liked different things I had posted. I happened to notice several profiles that began with “Widow” or “Widower.” This hurt my heart for a couple reasons. One, I could completely identify with the feeling of losing your spouse and best friend. It was humbling to see how many people who had walked through pain and tragedy were following our story and receiving hope from how we were walking through it.
But it also troubled me. I wondered how long it had been since they lost their spouse. I wondered how long each of these people were defining themselves by that season of their life . . . had it been a year? Two years? 10 years? You see, we wouldn’t do this for other seasons of hurt in our life. I haven’t seen any social media profiles of Christians that read, “Divorcee” or “Sexually Promiscuous” or “Abandoned” or “Abused” or “Rejected” or “Foreclosed on” or “Unemployed.”
It troubled me because I have felt the temptation to define myself by my tragedy—“Well, I guess I’ll always be the guy who’s wife was murdered and it was plastered all over national television.” But the reality is, in Christ, I’m much more than my tragedy, my hurt, my past, my mistakes. My current situation does not have to be the definition for my life. My current situation is a season. It helps me identify with others, but it is not my identity. My present situation is not the perpetuating situation for my life. What has been done to me and what I’ve done is NOT who I am!
That day I chose to not let my tragedy define me, but instead to let it refine me. And I want to challenge you to do the same thing, whatever your past may look like. The book of Isaiah says this:
“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:18-19, NIV)
God tells the Israelites to forget the former things and to not dwell on the past! Dwelling on the past leads to paralysis. You can’t move forward. If you have lost a loved one, one of the most honoring things you can do is move forward. You’ll never really move on. But you can move forward. Keep living your life. Thrive and build a legacy your loved one would be proud of!
Malcom Gladwell, bestselling author of Outliers and Tipping Point, once said in an interview with Tim Ferriss on the Tim Ferriss Show, that we can’t let an “outlying event determine the trajectory for our lives.” The reality is, we don’t know the end of our personal stories. When you’re in the thick of the plot of your personal narrative it’s tough to see how the story could read any differently than a tragedy. If you project a trajectory of a tragedy, it may just become a self-fulfilling prophecy. But if you project a trajectory of restoration and redemption, you can look forward with hope to the future plans God has for you. As trite as this may sound, in Christ we live happily ever after in Heaven. Restoration and Redemption await us. Claim it. Believe it. And live it in.
While we don’t know the end of our personal story, we do know the end of the meta-narrative of God’s story. We as Christians prevail. The devil gets what’s coming to Him. So, when the devil tries to bring condemnation into your life by reminding you of your past, you just remind him of his future—a future where he is fully and finally defeated and destroyed and where his ploys can not longer touch God’s people.
Determine in this process you’re going to drive your life looking through the windshield, not through the rearview mirror. After all, the view through the windshield is much broader and more beautiful than the narrow perspective of your past.
Corner Three: Coping or Curing?
Numbing won’t heal . . . it only gives off the illusion of healing
When tragedy and trauma strike the conversation often turns to “coping.” How do you cope? How do you adapt to what’s happened to you or what you’ve experienced?
I don’t want you to just cope. I don’t believe Jesus wants you to just cope. Let’s go back to John 10:10. Jesus didn’t say, “I have come that you may cope.” He said, “I have come that you may have life, and life to the full.” More than just coping with our hurts, I believe Jesus wants to cure us from our hurts. I also believe He can and will, if we’ll let Him.
There are many ways you and I could cope and numb pain that we’re feeling—alcohol, drugs, prescription medications, sex, food, relationships and the list goes on. Often times it’s not inherently bad things we use to cope, but even the good things become bad things when we depend on them for comfort. One of Satan’s biggest ploys in our life is to make the good things in our life become “gods” in our life. Our temptation is to find the thing, or things, that bring us comfort, ease, and help to numb the pain and then prop them up on the throne of our lives, as our go-to when the pressure mounts or the pain increases.
My counselor told me the problem with numbing is that you can’t selectively numb. If you numb one thing, you automatically numb its antithesis. For instance, if you numb pain, consequently you’ll also numb joy. If you numb sorrow, you’ll also numb happiness. If you and I want to feel joy, happiness, and levity in life again, we must be willing to traverse the murky waters of sorrow, depression, and pain. Scripture is laden with this concept:
I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:10-11, NIV)
Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. (Romans 8:17, NIV)
But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. (1 Peter 4:13, NIV)
According to Christ’s closest followers, the prerequisite to knowing Jesus is knowing pain. This does not mean we should all turn into masochists who inflict pain on ourselves. Live long enough and pain will find you. You don’t have to go searching for it. But when it does come, get to know it. Because in it, you’ll know Jesus. Know pain, don’t numb it.
One of the most common ways people numb is with prescription medication. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders cost the U.S. more than $42 billion a year, which is almost a third of the country’s $148 billion total mental health bill.
First of all, let me say this. Every time I have entered the discussion on prescription medication someone gets offended. My intent is certainly not to offend you. It’s to help you. So before I begin, I want you to know my heart. I truly believe there are instances where drugs to treat anxiety, depression, and PTSD are necessary and important. There are some mental illnesses that are certainly a result of chemical imbalances in the brain. However, according to Bessel van der Kolk, psychiatrist and New York Times bestselling author of The Body Keeps the Score, since the release of Prozak in 1985, psychiatrists and doctors have all too quickly resorted to prescribing drugs to keep patients “happy” even if it’s not the healthiest strategy for their healing.
Van der Kolk issues that drugs should be used as a catalyst for healing, not a cure. They should only be a kick-start to the healing process, but healing strategies must take on a more holistic approach. In The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, van der Kolk writes, “drugs cannot ‘cure’ trauma; they can only dampen the expressions of disturbed physiology. And they do not teach the lasting lessons of self-regulation. They can help to control feelings and behavior, but always at a price—because they work by blocking the chemical systems that regulate engagement, motivation, pain, and pleasure.
Van der Kolk goes on to write about how “systematic desensitization”—the process of helping patients become less reactive to certain emotions and sensations—has been the prevailing strategy in the medical field for treating PTSD, anxiety, and depression. He suggests “systematic integration” instead—putting the event into its proper place in the overall arc of one’s life.
After my wife was murdered, my counselor and psychiatrist opted not to prescribe me any drugs to help with my depression and anxiety. Did I suffer from sleepless nights? Absolutely! Did I suffer from despondence and suicidal thoughts? Absolutely! Did I suffer from anxiety, flashbacks, and PTSD? Absolutely! But as he assessed where I was in the healing process, he encouraged me to continue working through the Ten Pillars I’m going to suggest to you in the rest of this eBook. He and I both uncovered that, even though I didn’t necessarily go into this trial with a strategy for healing, God in his goodness and grace had placed things in my life to catalyze a more holistic healing of my mind, body, heart, and soul. My job was to embrace these God-given strategies.
I’m extremely blessed that the only drugs I took were a Tylenol PM capsule on a handful of occasions to help me sleep. I’m so grateful for this approach because now I’m not struggling through the battle of breaking a dependence on anti-anxiety or anti-depression medication. If you are currently taking anti-anxiety or anti-depression medication, I’m certainly not condemning you. But I want you to imagine with me a life where you’re not dependent on these medications to feel joy. I want you to imagine a life where you can enjoy friends and family without the cloudiness of medication. I want you to imagine a life where you’re not tolerating side effects in order to numb the pain you’re feeling. I truly believe the Four Corners and the Ten Pillars discussed in this eBook can help you get there.
Corner Four: Your Investment
You and I must take ownership of our healing
Finally, the last corner has to do with your involvement and investment in this process. Healing takes time. It demands patience. But it also requires our involvement. My counselor told me that although we want healing in “poof” (God snaps His fingers and you’re healed), God works in “process.” If you look at every miracle in the Gospels (and all over scripture for that matter) Jesus required some sort of action, involvement, and/or response from the person who was asking for healing. Jesus loves to do the supernatural in our lives, but he also pre-requires us to put our natural forward. When we do what we can do and trust Him with the results, He’ll combine His super with our natural and we’ll experience the supernatural.
I attended undergrad at Southern Wesleyan University on a baseball scholarship. My freshman year I suffered an arm injury called an external rotation contraction, which means the decelerator muscles in my throwing shoulder were too weak to properly slow my arm down at the end of my throwing motion. The doctors told me that if I didn’t strengthen those muscles I could potentially throw a ball one day and my muscles in the back of my shoulder would tear, throwing my shoulder out of socket. Fortunately, I didn’t have to have surgery on my shoulder to treat this injury, but I did have to take a summer off of playing and do some intensive therapy.
So, every day that summer I performed the exercises they assigned to me. It became tiring and frustrating at times, and there were moments I wasn’t sure it was actually doing anything. It not only cost me time and energy, but it also cost me money. I had to purchase special weights, an exercise ball, and elastic bands to properly perform these exercises. It would have been a lot easier if they had just given me a cortisone shot and, poof!, I wouldn’t feel the pain anymore. Although that would have been much easier, it would not have healed my arm. Healing isn’t a passive activity. It requires your involvement and your investment. No one becomes healthy by default. You get healthy by design. I learned that summer that if I wanted to experience healing in my life, I had to invest time, energy, and money into it.
When I saw my counselor after Amanda passed, he told me that one of the things I needed to embrace was investing time, energy and money into the things that were going to catalyze and contribute to my healing. In fact, seeing my counselor cost a lot of money, but it was more than worth it! One of the best investments you can make is in the health of your soul. If you don’t have a healthy soul, you can’t help anyone else. It’s similar to what they tell you on an airplane if there is a sudden loss in cabin pressure: place the oxygen mask on yourself first before you assist anyone else. My counselor always says, “When Jesus is at the center of your life, self-care isn’t selfish, it’s good stewardship.” He challenged me to think about what things I needed to invest in to “put the oxygen mask on my soul” so I could offer fresh life and breath to others around me. “Your job, Davey,” he told me, “is to finish strong and finish well. And that’s going to take some investment.”
That’s the reason we’re charging for the remainder of this eBook. I know from personal experience that eBooks I’ve downloaded for free, I’m less likely to read and apply, however the ones where I’ve made some kind of financial investment—even if it’s small—I’m much more likely to digest and practice. I care about you and your healing, and some of the pillars we’re going to talk about may require you to make some financial investment into your family and yourself. If you’re not willing to do that, you’re going to have trouble experiencing true healing. I used to take Amanda on a date night every week, a small retreat almost every quarter, and big vacation just the two of us every year. This required significant financial sacrifice, but instead of viewing it as a burden, I viewed it as an investment into our marriage. And I’d do it a thousand times over again.
James, the brother of Jesus, wrote this in James 4:8: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” The invitation to step into healing has been issued. God took the initiative when He sent his son Jesus to die on the cross for us. He was raised from the dead three days later to prove to us that no circumstance is beyond repair. He has given us the Holy Spirit to help us overcome our tendency toward victim mentality and to step into victory. Now, according to James, the ball is in your court. You and I must take a step toward God if we want to experience His healing. As you step out in faith, He’ll meet you step for step. I hope you’ll join me for the rest of this journey.
A Nothing is Wasted Guidebook
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