I live near Chicago and, thus, Lake Michigan. Our lakeshore is one of the most beautiful in the world, according to me. It extends for miles and miles and boasts beautiful parks and beaches juxtaposed against one of the greatest city skylines in the world.
If you’ve ever flown into Chicago, you’ve probably flown over Lake Michigan and thought it looked lovely, almost serene—it is, after all, a lake, not an ocean. And at times it is serene.
But at other times, standing next to the shore, Lake Michigan can feel very much like the ocean, its waves cresting well above your head, sometimes crashing so violently that the spray covers Lake Shore Drive several feet away.
I’ve seen those violent waves and they are no joke. One after one they come, relentless, pounding, hammering, threatening. You sure wouldn’t want to be caught out on the water with waves like that. All you can do is wait for the weather to calm and return to normal.
This past year, the past six months especially, has felt like I’ve been rooted on the shore of Lake Michigan, unable to move, while enormous waves came crashing over me, one after one.
Relentless. Pounding. Hammering. Threatening.
So much has changed in the past year for me (and I’m one of those “I hate change” people). One daughter has moved to Philadelphia to pursue a doctoral degree. My youngest started college, leaving my nest quite empty. And one moved from Chicago to Seattle this past spring to pursue a new job. My husband began traveling a bit more for work, and my home, which used to be filled with people and activity has become suddenly very, very quiet.
Kids leaving? Crash.
But that’s not all. In the midst of adjusting to this new stage of life, my mom got sick and needed major surgery. Crash.
One child was in a serious car accident. Crash.
I came home from visiting her to find my dog had passed away under our dining room table. Crash again.
I was diagnosed with glaucoma. Crash.
And the crashes just kept coming.
Add to that a busy summer schedule of church commitments, travel with friends, and visits to both coasts to see our kids, and I was just about ready to come crashing down myself.
But God. Oh, he’s so good.
In the middle of feeling completely deflated by the events of the past year, my husband and I went on a two-week vacation to another lake (one much calmer and more serene than Lake Michigan). I knew I needed healing, but didn’t know at all what that would look like or how it could possibly take place.
On our second day there, we attended a church service at the camp where Julia is counseling this summer and the pastor talked about 2 Timothy 2:22, which says, in a nutshell, “So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness.”
Flee and pursue. Flee and pursue. It’s a pattern that God talks about often in Scripture.
The pastor asked us, “What is God asking you to flee right now and what is he instead asking you to pursue?” And right away, like a plunk, an answer dropped into my heart.
Flee sadness; pursue joy.
But Lord, I argued. How exactly can I just flee sadness? I’ve carried it around for so long now. I’ve been bombarded by hard circumstances that have left me grieving. I can’t just say I’m done with it and have it be over. It’s not that simple.
But quiet lake vacations have a way of healing me, so each day as I sat in the sun watching my husband fish from the dock, reading books and more books, I pondered: Could I really flee sadness? What would that look like? And what does it mean to pursue joy?
I dug into Scripture. I prayed. I read. And every time I was tempted to give into my sadness and start my usual pity-party, I decided to set it aside and instead to focus on what was right in front of me—the many blessings I already have.
Miraculously, by the end of two weeks I felt an incredible peace. I felt the shattered, grieving parts of my heart begin to knit together . . . somehow, some way. Those two weeks felt, for me, like a break, a line in the sand, a new beginning. The old, crummy, hard parts of my year were over, I felt, and a new lightness had taken its place—one I can only describe as joy.
God met me this summer in a way I still don’t quite understand. It’s not like the crashing waves have stopped—they haven’t. There’s still hard stuff going on.
But I have a new perspective that I believe is God-given. A perspective that tells me that the one who walked on water, the one who calms the crashing waves, still sees me, hasn’t left me, and has control over all of it. I don’t have to stand and face the waves alone because God is right there, supporting me every time another disappointment or difficult circumstance comes my way.
He clearly told me to flee from my sadness, and each time I’ve consciously put that sadness behind me, God has replaced it with undeniable joy.
And that, to me, is grace.