Consolation Prizes from God {something to resist …. or to receive?}

Just as I have difficulty eating peaches in January or squash in June, I wish I could put these posts into categories so you can decide if it’s your right season to consume it. If I could, this one would be in the “for those walking through a hard and unrelenting season” category — those looking for a bit of carrot to keep you going.

(The rest of you can read on, now having been told what to expect … or perhaps send to a friend who is in a season like the one I describe. Or maybe archive it to pull out when you’re in one of those, because aren’t we all finding that really nobody escapes from being “hard pressed on every side”?)

The year before we adopted Eden and Caleb (our first two children) was brutal.

I still have scents and songs that remind me of that time. And when I smell or hear them, I am back there in a flash.

We started our adoption after too many years of infertility (we’d wanted to adopt all along, but didn’t think we’d start the process feeling so tired from all the not-yets) and then we hit one hurdle after another in adopting them. I remember the dark morning on my way to meet a friend for a run before the sun came up: I got pulled over for more than just a few miles over the acceptable cruise velocity, and I started sobbing at the wheel, waiting for the police officer, certain (in my crazed state) that this would throw up one more paperwork hurdle for us in our adoption. It felt as if nothing — absolutely nothing — was working in our favor.

I flinched regularly.

And in the middle of it all, my dad was diagnosed with cancer.

We’ve had a few periods when I breathed Paul’s words, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair” (2 Corinthians 4:8) as if telling myself what’s true when my mind kept telling me I was crushed in despair. This was one of those times.

I sometimes think of myself as the marathon runner I was at 22 — not needing much motivation beyond pure drive, “in it” simply for the satisfaction of being in it, and with little craving for the reward. But the gift of age and time is that our true selves keep pulling off our youthful masks … and I remember now that pure drive burns me out, and that I actually like (and liked) rewards. Then I look back and see when God gave me some of those sweet rewards — sweet consolation prizes — amid dark seasons like the one I described above.

That year and a half was our first “hardest ever year.” And we were also gifted a trip to the Cayman Islands and arranged another to the Amalfi Coast, essentially for free. Our room at the Hotel Marmorata on the Amalfi Coast was built right into the cliff. The water lapped against the rocks underneath our window as we woke, and we were served high tea in the afternoons. We held each other in the dark of the season we’d just known and the season that wasn’t lifting (my dad died three months later) and slept with the windows open, lulled to sleep by the sounds of seaside Italy.

I sometimes excused these gifts, wanting to downplay that I fully received them or even needed them — God is enough for me, I told myself and sometimes others. And while each year proves this to be more accurate in my heart than merely just out of my mouth, I also am finding that admitting my childlike humanity enables me to receive the breadcrumb trail He lays for each of us, as we die to the life we thought we’d live and receive the one He has for us.

I’m no longer that 22-year-old marathoner who was in it just for the joy of doing it. I grow weary from the length of time enduring hard struggles, I forget my goal, and the pain distracts me and sinks me some days. Many days.

And little rewards … they help.

Here I am, back again in a pressing and stretching season, and I now see a place for the consolations.

I vividly remember showing Nate a weak side of myself I’d not before admitted during our trip to Amalfi. The extravagance of God on that trip softened parts of my heart that hadn’t previously known softness. And the supple underside of softened hearts is where the best of prayer happens. I let Nate (and God) into a once-well-guarded place inside my heart.

Could it be that God understands that we are “but dust” (Psalm 103:14) and relates to us in our darkest hours, similar to how I relate to my six-year-old when she’s sick? Extra cuddles, warm blankets, surrounding her with comfort … and, yes, her favorite movie and favorite drink. “Sweet girl, you’re not going to feel this way forever. I’m sitting here right by your bed,” I whisper through the shadows in her room, into her ear that’s hidden under a tangle of hair, as I hold her hand.

“A bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench” (Isaiah 42:3).

Friends, this is not a message of the prosperity gospel — “Love God, and you’ll see He’s the best travel agent.” No. This is a message for those of you enduring long stretches of big and little trials, looking for road signs when you can’t see the road in front of you. The psalmist in Psalm 94:19 says, “when the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul.”

God sees your secret places of pain, and though He may not be moving in the one area for which you’ve been begging Him to move, He is reaching out His hand in the dark, cupping your face and whispering into the ear covered by your tangled hair, as if to say: I am here. I am moving. Keep watching for me.

The ultimate consolation is Him. The other consolations along the way are things like perseverance, character, and hope. And sometimes … the consolation comes in the form of a surprisingly radiant sunset or a gift from an unknowing friend at just the right time or a trip to Amalfi — softening our insides to receive the best consolation: Him.

As C.S. Lewis said, “One’s mind runs back up the sunbeam to the sun.”