Sunday, August 17, 2014

When the Vacuum Cleaner Goes in Reverse

My kitchen has a laminate floor.

This floor collects Lucky Charms©, dry spaghetti, flour, and broken pencil lead. I don’t prefer to sweep the floor, because I feel like it shoves aforementioned junk under my baseboard. Instead, I crawl on my hands and knees, dragging my upright Kirby G4 vacuum cleaner around by its hose, sucking up the crumbs and whatnot.   

One day, as I was hooking the hose up to the vacuum, I hit the lever that changed the gear from “neutral” to “drive.” Without realizing this, I turned on my machine, and starting pulling it around my dining table. Ninety seconds later, I turned around, and, with wide eyes, watched my 45 lb. piece of equipment shoot backwards—on its own—for about 3 feet, and then stop. I was amazed, confused, and a little weirded out. It also took me about 2 days to figure out why it did that, but, what can I say? I can be a little slow on the uptake sometimes.

Sometimes life is like that. You’re just walking along, singing a little spring song, smiling at the birds, when…BAM. Something happens that sends you flying backwards into the nearest Mexican thorn bush. 

(I have no idea what that is, but I stepped on one once, and it hurt like the Dickens.) 

I’m sure most of you know what this is like. Life has a funny way of surprising each of us. Just like me and my vacuum cleaner, we expect things to happen exactly how they’ve always happened, and then stare dumbfounded as they happen the opposite way. This happened to me once.

In 2011, my grandma and great-uncle both died of strokes, my brother and sister-in-law divorced and then both deployed to Afghanistan, my youth pastors resigned with no prior notice, we discovered my youngest brother had a heart murmur, and my church had some issues (which is putting it nicely.) 

So, yeah, basically, my neat little world flipped upside down. At first, all I could see was a sad, frustrating, maddening mess. But over the last three years, I have come to realize that these circumstances taught me several things.

1. Lean as hard as you can on Jesus. If necessary, collapse in His arms. 

During this year, I learned that God is the best Friend and most comforting Father anyone could ask for.  When I felt like I needed to vent, and I didn’t have anyone to whom I could really talk, I would go to my room and talk to Him. Sometimes I would tell Him that life stank, people were stupid, and no one but my dog loved me. Other times, my prayers were a little less detailed: “Lord, help.” “I’m hurting.” “Why?” or “I can’t do this.”  When I was just whining to be whining, God would bring to my mind all the things for which I should be grateful, and give me a large dose of you-know-so-and-so-has-it-worse-than-you-do. But when I was really hurting, He would show me encouraging scriptures or writings by Christians who had been through their own troubles. It gives you hope to see that someone else has been through the pits and has made it out alive. And the Bible is chock-full of examples proving that no matter how bad things get, you can be sure that He’ll give you His peace.

2. Wake up, breathe, and then go to bed. Repeat 7 times. 

Lesson #2: Your life may have just stopped dead in its tracks, but time and the rest of the universe haven’t. Therefore, you will have to keep going: get up, and go to work, school, the grocery store, or wherever else people expect you to be. I didn’t really like this lesson. I wanted so desperately to just plop down in the middle of my “life” and wait for everything to return to the way it was before, but I couldn’t. I didn’t have a job at that time, but I was going to college full-time and helping out at home. Much to my chagrin, my professors didn’t award extra credit for bereavement or spiritual disillusionment, and my family still had to wear clean clothes and eat from clean dishes. “Plopping down” wasn’t an option. But even though I didn’t want to, I found that once you make yourself get up and keep going the first day, it gets a little easier the second day, a little easier the third day, etc.

3. Whatever you do, don’t run away.

I think this may have been one of the most important lessons that I learned. During one of my “I can’t do this” prayer-stages, God let me stumble upon a sermon by Pastor Jim Cymbala from Brooklyn Tabernacle. It came at a point when I really needed it, and I have continued to cling to its message the past few years. The sermon, “The Temptation to Run,” is based on Psalm 55. David wrote this psalm when his “friend” Ahithophel had advised David’s enemies to kill him. Granted, my life wasn’t that bad, but people and things had gotten so frustrating that I wanted to just pack my stuff and move to Maryland. I could identify with David’s wishes:

“…oh, that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest. Lo, then would I wander far off, and remain in the wilderness. Selah. I would hasten my escape from the windy storm and tempest.” (Psalm 55: 6-8)

What Pastor Cymbala emphasized, though, was that you can’t fly away. Even if you’re in the middle of a mess, and you think you might lose your mind, you can’t just split and run for all your worth.  You can’t run away from all your problems, and it’s not the wisest idea to leave when God hasn’t said you could. I had to come to the same conclusion that David did:

 “As for me, I will call upon God; and the Lord shall save me. Evening, and morning, and noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice. He hath delivered my soul in peace from the battle that was against me…Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee: he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved…I will trust in thee.” (Psalm 55: 16-18, 22, 23)

4. You buy chicken nuggets, and you make fudge brownies.

Which being translated means: hang on to your family and friends as tightly as you can. They will keep your head above water. Next to God, my family and friends were my rocks when things went haywire. And the wonderful thing is, when they’re going through a trial, you can repay the ways they helped you.  

When my grandma died, I called my best friend to let her know that Grandma was gone. When I told her we’d be leaving soon, she made sure we would stop by their house. My sweet friend and her wonderful family prayed with us before we left, all the kids made us cards, they gave us warm homemade brownies, and the dad gave us $20 to buy chicken nuggets for lunch on the road.  

So, when my friends suffered a miscarriage a month later, I decided that they needed some warm homemade brownies, too. Now, honestly, chicken nuggets and fudge brownies are not that big of a deal. But it wasn’t about the food: it was about the friendship symbolized by the food. When you’re dealing with a mess, don’t try to hide away from everyone. Believe me—it’s much easier to have a shoulder to cry on.

5. You sit and stare at yourself in the mirror.

Seriously. It was the hardest lesson for me to learn to let God help me fix my attitude. I grew up as a pastor’s kid. I’ve seen things, and I’ve heard stories. I had kind of prepared myself to react correctly in certain situations, but I failed to prepare my attitude. I don’t think you realize how easily you can become bitter and hateful when something just really gets your goat. I’m opinionated, and I’m a loudmouth, neither of which is a good character trait to have when something doesn’t go your way. I came to realize two things:

First, if it doesn’t involve you directly, you probably can’t fix it anyway, so quit freaking out and obsessing over it. 

Second, if you continue to dwell on how mad it makes you, you’re the only one who pays for it. 

Bitterness and anger affect your mood, and how you interact with everyone around you. They even affect you physically. I would get so riled up sometimes, and then have indigestion an hour later. As Proverbs says, “…a broken spirit drieth the bones” (17:22) and “…a wounded spirit who can bear?” (18:14). You have to let the bitterness and anger go. It’s not easy, and it might take time, but if you’ll pray and read the Word, He’ll help you. I know, because that’s how He’s helped me.

Five very worthy life lessons. But you know what I think was the most important lesson I learned? 

Life goes on. It’s different, and it might make you sad, but it goes on. I had to learn to find a new normal.

Christmas without Grandma isn’t the same, and I miss Uncle Jerry’s unintentional humor, but they were faithful Christians, so I know they’re both joyfully worshiping Jesus.

My brother and sister-in-law both came home from Afghanistan, and they’re both okay. In fact, they’re better than okay. God brought them back together, and they just celebrated their 2nd anniversary of REmarriage in May.

For my youngest brother, God provided the resources to have the corrective heart surgery performed, and today, he’s still alive and kicking. Specifically, he’s kicking my middle brother.

And my church? Well, that one I’m not as sure about, and that can be confusing. But I know that God has everything under control, and I know He has a bigger plan than I can see, so I trust Him.

So, today, if you have also suddenly discovered that your vacuum cleaner has a reverse gear, please, take heart. I know that what I’ve been through is so menial compared to others’ trials, but I want to encourage you just the same. Yes, it’s rough, it stinks, it hurts, and, (man!) sometimes, it seems like it’ll never end! But God will always be there for you because He knows exactly where you are. 


  1. Leaning on Jesus, continuing to breathe, and staying put. Great advice. And chocolate besides! :) Life does go on, by the grace of God. Thanks for sharing this, Joanna.

  2. Joanna, there is SO much great advice and wisdom here. I have to say, right now I really relate to the whole "do not run away" part. No, I'm not talking physically running away, but emotionally tuning out what I have to deal with and just focusing on the tangible in front of me. I am grateful God has gotten me out of that place, though dealing with the emotional is hard. Thank you for sharing with SDG!

    1. I am so glad you could relate, Jen. Like I said, I haven't been through nearly as much as others, but if I could encourage someone, then it's all worth it. Thanks for stopping by, and thanks for making SDG available!

  3. Wonderful advice - I hope my vacuum doesn't have a reverse, but I do know some things have gone crazy from time to time - it is such a comfort to know in all things God is always in control - great post! I do appreciate you sharing with A Return to Loveliness,

    1. Just think how messy this world would be if He wasn't in control; I don't even wanna try. :-) Thanks for visiting, and for hosting the linkup!

  4. Yes, our attitude is so important. I so appreciated this post.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Judith! Comments are always appreciated. :)

  5. Lovely and wise post! Rather like you, in fact.

    1. You are so very kind and thoughtful. Thank you.