Becoming Stronger When Life Breaks
Today is another beautiful Tennessee morning. I'm fighting a cold, so I slept in just a bit. As I rolled out of bed, I grab my robe, my computer and a cup of tea to settle in for the better half of the day in my study. I've stared out the window of my study now for at least 45 minutes asking God to give me a fresh word. And…..nothing. Nothing comes to mind. My fingers are frozen to the keys on my computer. "Move fingers, type something brilliant!" I think it's just one of those days when I feel numb and I'm at a loss for words, but the tears fall freely. I miss the life that I once knew. I miss the love that surrounded my life. I miss everything about yesterday. Yet I know that in the midst of these tears I also fight for the life I still have, the love that still surrounds me. And I'm trying to embrace today and all that God has for me now. You see I know this isn't just my story. It's our story. Anyone who risks loving risks losing. Life is filled with beginnings and endings. Some people call them chapters in life. Bankruptcy, loss of a child or spouse, death of a dream, a friendship that failed, fired from a job, end of a marriage, end of a career, or a ministry that didn't make it. But here's the really cool part, we get to write the next chapter of our lives. Nobody can write it for you. You have to write it yourself. That means you have to make some choices for your life today, and trust me, I know they're not easy. Everything in my life has been shaken. All my plans have crumbled. But I am still standing, and deep within, I know I am stronger than I have ever been in my faith, my purpose and where God has me today. I have known the depths of heartache and I have also known the even greater depths of God's love and sustaining power.
I was just 15 years old when I met who would become the man of my dreams, Trent Lenderink. I'll never forget that wintry night in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I was sitting with my girlfriends in youth group when three "yummy" guys walked into the room; I raised my hands towards heaven and quietly whispered "Thank you Jesus! (laughing) I love church!!" As our eyes met that night who could have known that would be the beginning of a fairytale-like relationship. I wasn't allowed to date until I was 16, but you guessed it, on my birthday the phone rang, and hours later I was staring at Prince Charming. (smile) Trent and I dated for 7 and a half fun and adventurous years before we walked down the aisle in 1990 and were married in the very church where we first met. I'll never forget that feeling of knowing that I was about to spend the rest of my life with my soul mate, my best friend.
Life was good. Trent and I were so young and so in love and many times it felt like we were just "playing house". We both had some long time dreams and one of mine was music. I had felt a calling on my life ever since I was a little girl, and I felt like music was apart of that in some way. So I pursued that dream and eventually signed my first record deal in 1995. I wanted Trent to be a part of this journey with me every step of the way, so I took his first name as my last and became Tammy Trent while he became my manager.
After 11 years of marriage, three albums under my wings, a few bumps in the road and a move to Nashville, I was slowing down. I was at a crossroads. Do you ever find yourselves in those seasons of your life when you're asking God, "What is your will for my life? What is your purpose for me? What am I doing with my life? Does it really matter?" I think those questions came from a heart that was longing to be RIGHT where God intended me to be. I was tired of running and trying to do it all on my own. I needed God. I wanted to feel fulfilled and I knew the only place I would feel that was truly being in the will of God for my life. God was up to something. I could feel it. I just didn't have any idea what it was.
The phone rang asking us if our schedule was clear. It was. So Trent and I hopped on a plane to Jamaica for a mission trip. What perfect timing, I thought. Time away from everything and everyone so that I could hear clearly from God. I must admit I felt a little lost and exhausted and scared about the future, but I also felt that as long as Trent were by my side, I would be just fine.
We were in a gorgeous place. Jamaica's spectacular Blue Lagoon. The sun was shining, the water was aquamarine and Trent was ready to free dive in the center of the 240-foot-deep-hole. He slid quietly into the water without a splash and said, "I'll see you in fifteen minutes". Then Trent turned toward the deep water, sank beneath the surface, and was gone.
It has been eleven years since standing on the edge of the water waiting for Trent to return. I have cried hundreds of buckets of tears. I have screamed out how much I hate this new plan for my life, but I have also learned to walk it out with hope and faith by the grace of God as I gain perspective on what God's purpose might be for the pain I have experienced. Some things remain a mystery to me. This side of heaven I don't think we'll ever have the full answers to all the "why" questions. But if you keep your eyes open to the things of God you'll see Him at work all around you, giving your pain purpose.
A few days after I lost Trent I found myself in a hotel bathroom clinging to the bathroom vanity. Barely strong enough to stand through my agonizing tears, I asked God to send someone. "I'm not asking for thousands of angels or even a hundred angels, but just one angel that would hold me. I feel alone. Are you there God? Do you see this girl? Are you real? Please just send me someone if you're there!" And then I sensed the Spirit nudging me to get up and move. I made my way over to the adjoining room and when I got there I saw this beautiful Jamaican woman standing there in a housekeeping outfit. I looked at her and said, "Ma'am can you come in and make my bed, it's a mess", and she looked at me and said, "Yes. I've been trying to get to you. I could hear you crying and I've been trying to get to you. Can I just come in and hold you?" Do you see that! It was an instant answer to my prayer. She walked in, wrapped her arms around me and without hesitation began to pray for me. I cried in her arms as my healing began at that very moment. I knew that I would not just survive this but that I would overcome this in Jesus' name!
Yes, there are sunny days, but there are also rainy days. Both are a part of the seasons of life, and they have their own distinct purposes. Troubles are all around us and they do not discriminate in their visitations. Problems are a part of life. It is also part of life to – if you choose – to find resolution and growth in the challenges you face.
I continue to face challenges everyday but there isn't a moment that goes by when I don't feel the hand of God guiding me. Recently, I was working at home and felt so overwhelmed with "stuff", so I ran upstairs to my bedroom closet, shut the door behind me and just lost it. I cried like a baby, "I can't do this. I'm not strong enough. I'm not smart enough." About 15 minutes into my big girl cry, my eyes were drawn to a tiny light shinning through the crack of the door and onto my shoe case. As I pulled myself together I could almost here the whisper, "Tammy you ARE strong enough. You ARE smart enough. You ARE brave enough. Look at all of these shoes. Look at how far you've come. You've walked through every new season of life and you continue to put one foot in front the other as you wholeheartedly put your faith and trust in me!" Yes I shouted, Yes! I got up, wiped my tears and grabbed my running shoes. (smile)
Some times the choice in life is as simple as just showing up and allowing Jesus to do something beautiful with your life. He doesn't say, fix everything and make sure you show up with a smile on your face. He says, come as you are and let me heal you. Let me rescue you. Let me save you. And when you become stronger He will use your life to impact another.
The truth is, I thought for a long time I just couldn't do it again without Trent, but God simply carried me through until I understood that I could do it, that I was strong enough. I think he was showing me that I had relied too much on Trent and not enough on Him. Losing Trent, as hard as it is to say, I believe was a part of God's plan, and, no surprise, I hate this part. But I am still convinced that it also was part of God's plan that I climb back up on that stage and continue in ministry in music and speaking because it has been something new and deeper and richer. There is a new fragrance of healing and hope that surrounds my life yet I don't pretend everything makes sense. I just show up and let people see that I'm a real girl letting a real God heal her broken heart.
My message today is bold and it's clear. You will get through this. Not somehow, but triumphantly. We may have walked through horrible circumstances in life that have crushed our spirits, but this one truth I know: God's plans and purpose for our lives are good. They were good at the moment we were created and are still good today. I know life is hard, but I also truly believe God is faithfully good and he has the power to restore the broken places in our hearts. Remember, God's intent is never to leave you where you are in a place of hurt, but rather to move you to a place of wholeness and healing. I know that fear of the unknown can be overwhelming today, but try to keep seeking to be healed and finding something beautiful within the ashes. (Isaiah 61:3) I stand with you at this moment in prayer as a fellow traveler giving my pain purpose, too. We can't give up. We just can't!