Two years.

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Photo taken by Emily Elizabeth Photography

Many of you have heard bits and pieces of my story throughout the past two years. Some of you have been the ones that have cried with me and helped me through some of the darkest moments of my life. I didn’t really want to write this post because I knew it would mean I had to recall each moment over the past couple of years that has caused so much pain. But God knew that this story needed to be shared. He allowed me to walk through this difficult season so that I could learn the depth of his love for me. I don’t share this story because I want sympathy or because I want to shame. I believe that God has given me this story because he wanted me to be able to point back to how good he is, even in suffering. So with that, here it goes.

It’s been two years.

I still remember exactly where I was when I received the call. It was week one of my summer mission down in South Lake Tahoe, CA. My mom had called earlier in the week to let me know they were no longer coming to see me. She also had something to tell me but she wanted my dad there too. Okay. What’s the worst thing that could happen? Two days pass and it’s hard to keep me mind from wandering to what it could be. Sickness? Job loss? Death? Divorce entered my mind briefly but I quickly brushed it away. I had just seen them happy, together a week before. Everything was fine. Fast forward to Wednesday. I was on my way to teaching night when I shared with my friends what was going on. One of them immediately suggested divorce but I again brushed that away because everything was fine a week ago. I parked my car and went inside.

The call came.

I grabbed my phone, walked outside, and sat on the front steps. Hello? Both my parents answered. I was anxious but not prepared for what they would say. We’re separating. What? No you were just fine a week ago. Denial and grief washed over me. I began to sob on those front steps. I can still feel that moment. The air was warm, the sun was out but I suddenly began shivering. It felt like everything had stopped. Suddenly my family was no more. My world was fine one moment and then the next everything had exploded, shattered, the pieces fell in slow motion.

I sobbed on those steps for several minutes, unable to stand. I heard music coming from the chapel, beautiful worship in stark contrast to my broken world. One of my friends stuck her head out, concerned that I wasn’t back yet. She saw my face and sat down beside me. I was unable to put voice to what was happening but God provided comfort.

Weeks had passed since that moment when suddenly, everything became even more complicated. More tears, more hurt, and more pain. My summer in California comes to an end but I’m faced with a new challenge: pack up what’s left of my life in my childhood home that has been sold. More emotions, more tears, and more pain. As I sorted through the sweet memories of the past when things were put together, albeit still broken, I remember all that happened. I was unable to process these intense emotions so I crumpled to the ground and sobbed. It felt like I couldn’t breathe. With no one around, I reached for my phone to call a friend. Her words are forever in my mind. “When all you can do is cry, God knows what you need. He hears you even when all you can do is cry.” God provided peace and I move forward.

Months later, life has become a way to avoid and deny what’s really happening. I was living in two separate worlds: home and away. Broken relationships and painful arguments were a regular part of my life at home. Peace and denial were part of my life away. I spent time away because I couldn’t stand to face what had happened. A mentor once told me that what I was walking through was similar to grieving a death. I was just grieving the loss of my family.

Life keeps getting busier. I graduate college and the divorce becomes official. Emotions keep swirling around me that I don’t quite know how to process. But I don’t need to see a counselor, I’m fine. Deep inside though, I become bitter. God sees and calls me to forgive. Through his grace, I can but, saying those words are completely different than living it. Most of the time, I avoid but when I’m faced with reality, I become angry. God sees and provides peace.

I make it through the summer, all the while still unable to process these difficult emotions. But I don’t need to go to see a counselor, I’m fine. Fall arrives. Change occurs. God is still moving in my life but it’s hard for me to see. He provides a job. The first month is great but then I am faced with a new fear. The intercom comes on, telling us to go into lockdown. Fear. Then it’s over. Will I ever be able to feel safe at school? Days pass and my joy decreases. Anxiety rises up and depression sets in. I cry out to God, just asking him to let me feel normal again. And again I say, “But I don’t need to go to counseling. I’m fine.”

Then, I hit rock bottom.

I am not fine. But God has provided life. I begin to see a counselor. Days that feel long and dark suddenly start to feel bright again. I am starting to feel normal, even almost joyful. God provided.

Christmas comes. I thought that the first Christmas would be the hardest. I was wrong. Arguments explode, hurt increases, and trust dwindles. But God is not done. He brought me through the fall and will bring me through this. I come home and start a new job. This new job is hard, but I keep moving forward. I pray for change. Months pass and change actually happens. There are moments when I allow myself to remember. The bad memories of the past two years come flooding forward but the incredibly sweet moments where God has undeniably provided from the bad overwhelm me.

God has been so good.

He has shown me that even in suffering, there is good. In each moment of pain, I became closer to him. Sweet relationships have developed because of the hurt that I experienced. God carried me when I couldn’t carry myself and provided for every one of my earthly needs. But he also did something even more amazing, he increased my faith, trust, and patience. It’s hard to think that God sometimes uses suffering to grow and strengthen our faith. While these past two years have been hard, God has used each moment for his glory. For each hard time, an abundantly sweeter moment has resulted. While I still can’t explain why, I know who has come alongside me and I really think that’s all that matters. Answering those why questions will never bring me peace but, realizing that Jesus has been with me through it all brings light into a dark situation.

The life I am living was one that I never imagined. I never thought that I would still be living in Spokane (and loving it!), teaching in a ridiculously hard classroom, and still single. But I could not be more grateful for how God has provided for me and grown me in this season of life. It’s crazy to look back on all that has changed in just two years. Yeah, it was hard. Yeah it sucked. But Jesus is always greater.

This next year, more change will happen because that’s life, but I’m excited to see where God takes me next.

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Hope in suffering.

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I sometimes think about how Eve ate the apple and get frustrated. No, actually, I get angry. I’m angry that because of temptation and evil, there has to be pain and suffering in the world. I’m angry that because of disobedience, there is poverty, inequality, and starvation afflicting so many around the world. I’m angry that there is conflict and war devastating people’s livelihoods, forcing them to flee to foreign places, not even knowing the language spoken in those countries. Mostly, I’m angry that God has given us free will and choice to do what we please because we usually run in the opposite direction.

But, when I think about it, I’m also glad. I’m glad that God gives us the choice to either walk in truth or reject it and He never forces us to submit. I’m glad that He loves me enough to give me free will, even if it means that I might walk away from Him. I’m glad that even through suffering, there is goodness and faithfulness.

Over the summer, I got the opportunity to live in South Lake Tahoe on a summer mission. I was there for ten weeks and experienced community in ways I never could have imagined. That summer has changed the way I view my relationship with Christ. I am more in love with Him now than ever before. I also experienced hard things that summer. I remember one Sunday, I was at church. The music and preaching was mediocre, I felt overwhelmed by the pain that I was going through, and I was pretty apathetic toward the whole church thing. The worship band began playing the last song and I stood there, halfheartedly singing the lyrics. Suddenly, I felt the weight of God’s goodness and faithfulness on my life. I recalled several times in my life where God had come through, when He was good to me and most importantly, when He was faithful. I had to sit down because I was so overwhelmed. I had never experienced God in this way before. I felt as if God was saying,

“Lizzie, look what I have done in your life. I will continue to move just like I have in the past.”

That was the most intense encounter I’ve had with God. You see, just weeks prior, I had cried out to God in desperation and it felt like He was not listening.

But He was.

Why do I ever doubt that God is good?

With so much pain and suffering in the world, my tendency is feel overwhelmed and doubt that God is good. I can’t explain why there are children dying of starvation and lack of medical care simply because that’s where they were born. I can’t explain why I was given the opportunity to grow up in a loving home, free from worry about where our next meal would come from while children are born into poverty and hate. This is something I have struggled with throughout my walk with God and during this summer. I couldn’t answer the “why” questions. I had doubts, fears, and anger about why God would allow things to happen that were painful and out of my control. I felt so much anger towards God. It simply couldn’t be that pain and suffering was in His plan.

I remember so many nights when I wept, screamed, and cried out to God.

And it felt like He was silent.

Up until that one morning when He showed me He was still good, He was still God, and He was still faithful. I am so grateful that amidst my pain, God showed up, like He always has and always will. I’m grateful that He choose the perfect time to remind me of this, a time when I was at my lowest.

Friends, I don’t know what you’re going through right now or how hopeless your situation feels, but I do know that I’ve been there. It’s okay to be angry, it’s okay to ask God why, it’s okay to just sit in your grief.

But don’t stop there.

Ask God for clarity, ask Him for faith, even it when it seems hopeless, and ask Him for joy in the midst of pain and suffering. Ask Him to just be with you. Even when it feels like life is falling apart, there is hope. Even when you’re experiencing deep hurt and pain, there is joy. And even when you feel alone, God is still there.

This is the hope that I choose to cling to. Romans 15:13 says,

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

He is the God of hope and He will fill us with joy and peace as we trust in Him through the power of the Holy Spirit.

I hope you feel encouraged today!

Lizzie