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Surviving One Bad Year

7 Spiritual Strategies to Lead You to a New Beginning

About The Book

Spiritual Strategies for a
New Beginning

Loss has many names --
divorce, death, illness, bankruptcy, depression,
disappointment, betrayal, job loss, and more.
And as we experience these losses, we sometimes wonder how we will survive.

Whether you are reeling from the blow of an immediate crisis or in need of help to sustain you for the long haul, you will find spiritual strength and practical strategies on every page of this book.

Purposefully designed to meet you where you are on any given day of need, this book is divided into two parts:
PART 1 offers emergency tactics to help you keep your head above water when a huge wave of pain threatens to pull you under. PART 2 reveals seven strategies to help you navigate the stormy waters and make it safely to a peaceful shore.

Some days, all your heart can take in may be one simple thought. At those times, you can easily flip through the pages and find...

encouraging Bible verses and inspirational quotes -- set off, centered, and easy to find.
At other times, you may need to soak up...

practical help and biblical teachings.
share in stories of others who have also gone through pain.

These are here for you as well.

When difficult times come -- and they come to us all -- it helps to know that

you are not alone,
that you will survive,
and that there will be an end to your crisis.

This book is dedicated to you, as you find that hope and help to survive your bad year.


“I Can’t Do This”

SO, THINGS HAPPEN. One minute you’re sailing through life on peaceful waters, when all of a sudden, from out of nowhere, a giant wave capsizes your safe existence—and life is never the same again. An unexpected loss can knock all the breath out of you and send you plunging into dark waters, where you are instantly paralyzed. Fear, shock, and confusion flood in, and you are thrust into shutdown mode. We know we have to keep going, but how?

Or perhaps you’re experiencing a sense of loss that has developed over time. Gathering clouds hover overhead, and you have a growing awareness that some unnamed dread is approaching—you can feel your joy and purpose hopelessly slipping away. How will you find your way through these murky waters? Or maybe there’s a problem or issue in your life that you’ve tried to ignore and now it’s finally erupted. You’re forced to stop your life and refocus your attention.

My own bad year grew out of a series of less eventful ones that we managed to cruise through—until one October day four years ago when I realized there was no getting through this one. Not without a lot of tears and pain, at least.

Being a mom was all I wanted. In a span of ten years, my husband, Bill, and I had four wonderful, energetic, fun-loving little boys. My life was perfect. Almost. It just seemed that someone was missing. Though each of our four sons is priceless, I knew how it worked: “A son’s a son ’til he takes a wife; a daughter’s a daughter all of her life.” How would I get my daughter to round out my perfect life? The logical solution was adoption. Simple.

After two or three years of paperwork and a roller-coaster search, Bill and our four sons—Jon, Eric, Chris, and Andy (ages fourteen down to eight)—and I were at the Seattle airport waiting to pick up our daughter, Kim Yung Ja. She was three and a half years old; thirty-six inches tall; had short, dark, straight hair; and had spent most of her life in an orphanage north of Seoul. A volunteer carried her off the plane and placed her in our arms. We were enchanted by our tiny little daughter and renamed her Amy Kim Carmichael. We then proceeded to make her a Carmichael. Or tried to.

You can imagine her transition. She came from a place where everyone looked like her to a place where the people had round eyes, blond hair, and a strange language. And with no say in the matter, she found herself plopped into a family and expected to be like them.

If you had asked me twenty-one years ago to tell you about adoption, I would have spoken of it in glowing terms: the perfect solution for infertile couples or for parents like me with a yearning that just won’t go away.

But that was before the most traumatic year of our family’s life. What would I tell you now about adoption? Imagine accepting an amputated arm from another person and attaching it to your own body—hoping the graft will take.

When Amy was in her early twenties, she decided she wanted to live on her own. She began to have a lot of fun—far too much fun. We heard rumors of her being involved in out-of-control partying. I wondered, Who is this person? How can she just “wig out” like that?

My sons and daughters-in-law warned, “If she doesn’t change her ways, there’s a train wreck ahead.” We spent sleepless nights praying and worrying. We tried to talk sense to her. We tried tough love. We consulted professionals. I knew something strange was going on in her life, but she was twenty-one, so there was only so much we could do.

One October Friday, as I prepared to go out of town for a speaking engagement, I sensed an urgency to connect with Amy, so I asked if she could meet me at Red Robin for lunch. She agreed and showed up looking very depressed. I ordered my usual chicken salad, and she ordered her usual rice bowl. “How are you, Amy?” I asked.

“Not so good. One of my friends at work is pregnant and her boyfriend doesn’t want to marry her.”

“Oh . . . What is she going to do?”

“Everybody’s telling her to get an abortion.”

“What do you think?”

“I don’t think that would be right.”

“Well, what about her family?”

She gave a little sigh of disgust. “Oh, if her family found out, they’d disown her.” By this time, my heart was beginning to pound. “Amy, will you tell your friend we’ll be glad to help her if she wants help?”

Later in the car, she burst into tears: “Mom, it’s me! I’m pregnant.” Then she said, “Now I know how my birth mother felt. There’s no way I can be a mom now. I’m going to place the baby for adoption.”

Stunned into momentary silence, I thought, Maybe she’s wrong; maybe she isn’t pregnant after all. And then I said what countless other mothers have said to their daughters: “Honey, we’ll get through this.” That’s what we parents do—we go into automatic overdrive and do what we must to help our family. Rescue the survivors. I suddenly realized I had just joined a vast club of mothers— a club I’d never wanted to join. This was not my dream for my daughter.

I suddenly realized I had just joined a vast club of mothers—a club I’d never wanted to join.

I took her back to her apartment, and we sat on her bed and cried and prayed together. I told her to hang on, that we’d get through this, and to wait until Monday, when we could go to the doctor. I knew I had to go home and tell Bill, and then somehow go on to my speaking engagement. Where had I gone wrong, where had I failed her? How could we have avoided this?

As I drove, waves of anger, shock, and grief poured over me.

How can Amy handle another life-defining loss? How can I walk through this with her? I can’t do this!

Although things looked impossible for all of us at the time, later on we would be amazed at how God directed our steps in the confusing and painful months ahead.

You, LORD, are my shepherd. I will never be in need. . . .
You are true to your name, and you lead me along the right paths.
I may walk through valleys as dark as death, but I won’t be afraid.

—PSALM 23:1, 3–4 CEV
Stories of Loss
In the following pages, we’ll take an up-close look into the lives of several people who were unexpectedly thrashed by overwhelming waves of loss. In these true stories, you just might see reflections of your own experiences or of those you love and care for. The camaraderie we feel in knowing that others have walked this way before us brings much-needed comfort and the hope that you, too, will survive your own bad year.

No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond
the course of what others have had to face.
All you need to remember is that God will never let you down;
he’ll never let you be pushed past your limit;
he’ll always be there to help you come through it.

—1 CORINTHIANS 10:13, The Message
“I’m Bankrupt. I’ve Lost Everything!”
Brad and his wife, Susan, were small retail owners in their late fifties and had worked hard to get where they were. Retirement was just around the corner, and they looked forward to having weekends free. Their dream was to ride their motorcycles across the country.

When Brad’s parents passed away, he and Susan were surprised to realize they had a sizable chunk of money to invest. After investigating several possibilities to get the best possible return on their investment, they decided to buy into a real estate venture in California. The real estate market was booming, and they were assured that this was a “slam dunk.” They sold their small business and added that to the investment as well, and then looked forward to a comfortable life.

Who could have foreseen the rapid economic downturn, with the foreclosures and bankruptcies that followed? A lot of people didn’t—and certainly not Brad and Susan. One morning when Brad didn’t receive his monthly payment from the real estate company, he called the CEO’s office and got a recording that said the phone had been disconnected. Worried, he made several other phone calls, only to be told that the company he had invested everything in had just filed for bankruptcy.

Brad felt as if he’d been punched in the stomach. He said, “You read about it every day, but when it happens to you, it’s an earthquake.” He finally reached an attorney who represented the company and was told, “It may be a good idea for you to get a job.”

Numb with shock, he and Susan realized that, almost overnight, they had no income. What could he do, at his age, to provide for his family—to simply pay the bills?

It was humiliating, embarrassing. Fear descended upon him, wrapping him in its clutches, smothering him until he could hardly breathe.

Fear descended upon him, wrapping him in its clutches, smothering him until he could hardly breathe.

Sure, they had their faith, but how would they get through this one? Forget a comfortable retirement; how would they survive? At the time, stress was their constant companion; but Brad and Susan were to discover a God who would lead them through an impossible journey to know His provision in ways they could never have imagined.

Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life.
Thus says the
LORD who makes a way in the sea
and a path through the mighty waters. . . .
Do not remember the former things, nor consider the things of old.
Behold, I will do a new thing.

—ISAIAH 43:16, 18
“I Don’t Want to Be Married to You Anymore”
Jim McClelland is a big guy, a gentle guy. He was in his ninth year of being a youth pastor, and he loved every minute of his work. He’d been married to Lindsay for eight years, and they had two young sons, a preschooler and a first-grader. Sure, there were challenges and tensions, but Jim was unaware of the crisis building inside Lindsay.

One August day, Lindsay asked Jim to sit down in the living room so they could talk. What she said rocked his world: “Jim, I don’t want to be married anymore.”

What? What are you talking about?”

To Jim, there were three cornerstones in his life: Jesus, the Bible, and Lindsay. A three-legged stool. What she was telling him did not compute. What he was hearing knocked the props out from under him.

But she was resolute. Matter-of-fact.

“I was absolutely deconstructed. . . . Destroyed.”

Jim told me, “I was absolutely deconstructed. Do you remember the pile of rubble left by the bombing of the World Trade Center? Or the explosion of the Challenger? That was me. Destroyed. I couldn’t even talk about it.”

Jim and Lindsay went for counseling, but her mind was made up.

In those dark days, Jim was certain all was lost. He felt utterly alone. Lindsay wanted to stay together through Christmas, so the boys wouldn’t have negative emotions connected to the holiday. Somehow they made it through. After Christmas, they went through their belongings, sorting them into piles: “That’s mine; that’s yours.”

Jim said, “It was so weird, standing in the garage with all my stuff, my dreams in cardboard boxes. But then—I don’t know how he knew—my friend, my best man, showed up in my driveway, got out, and just started in, helping me pack.

“We didn’t say three words. There was no conversation. But he was there. For seven months after that, the boys and I lived with my friend and his family. The boys and I didn’t have beds—just sleeping bags on the floor. The boys didn’t care so much—they thought they were camping—but one night I stood and looked at them sleeping on the floor in this tiny one-bedroom apartment, and I cried. It was the lowest of the low times. I went from a guy who never cried to one who cried all the time.”

How would he get through, rebuild? Would he ever be the same, ever be happy again? And what about his ministry? What would his church think? Although life would never be the same for Jim, he was to discover a God who never let him go.

I, the LORD have called You in righteousness,
and will hold Your hand; I will keep You.”

“They Can’t Find Your Mother”
Julie Wilson’s mom, Deede, was a vibrant, fifty-four-year-old real estate agent living in Southern California. She had recently gotten out of a destructive marriage, and life finally seemed good again. Julie was blond and vivacious like her mother, Deede, and was on her way to a much-anticipated girlfriends trip to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Julie and Deede had planned to meet at Los Angeles International Airport during Julie’s layover, so they could catch up over coffee. But Julie’s mother never showed. When her mother didn’t call, Julie assumed her cellphone battery had died and that she’d been delayed in traffic. Julie continued on her journey.

Julie said, “My two friends and I got to our beautiful resort in Cabo, but somehow the whole day was strange. Something wasn’t right. On the surface, everything seemed perfect—we started the day with hot-stone massages and spent time at the pool. Then we went into the town of Cabo San Lucas. But shortly after we left the resort, I felt the urgent need to get back. I tried to shake it off and enjoy the day, assuring myself that everything was okay. Our first stop was at an Internet café so we could check e-mail. I was surprised not to have heard from my mother, so I e-mailed her, telling her how much fun I was having with my girlfriends. I knew she would be so happy for me.”

Julie and her friends finished checking their e-mail, then briefly walked down some side streets, shopping. But Julie couldn’t shake a strong sense of concern that something was wrong and suggested they go back to the resort. At the resort, they had a delicious dinner on the beach, but still, she felt uneasy.

Julie said, “We left and went up to our room, and I found a message from my husband, Pete, on the phone. I panicked, as my first thought was that something had happened to Gracie—my one-year-old daughter, whom I’d left for the first time. My best friend, Vivian, was with me as I called him back.

Pete’s first words were, “Is Vivian there with you?”

“Yes. What’s going on?”

“I just got off the phone with your brother, Michael. Julie, they can’t find your mother.”

Julie ran to the bathroom and threw up. She said, “I knew immediately that Mom was not alive. And I knew that Erwin, my stepfather, had killed her.”

“I knew immediately that Mom was not alive.”

They soon heard that Deede’s body had been discovered, murdered. Her stepfather was ultimately charged. Julie would eventually be called to testify at the trial.

How does a daughter get through a living nightmare such as this? And where was God in all of this? For Julie, this traumatic event colored every waking moment of the days to come. But later, when she attended her mother’s trial, she felt the grace of God surrounding her and keeping her.

When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you; and through the rivers
they shall not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned.

—ISAIAH 43:2
“Depression. . . Something I Know”
Jason Clark was a brilliant pastor of a leading church in the UK, the father of three, and a university professor. He has done a lot in his life, and he was just this side of forty.

When Jason was nearly seventeen, he became a Christian at a wonderful church. He says, “I remember the first experience of being prayed for—having people lay hands on me, gently, lovingly; and it was the beginning of healing in my life. Church was wonderful: a place full of brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles, adopted mums and dads; a place where I was loved and cared for.”

For the first time in his life, people built him up and spoke words of life into who he was and what he could be. His home life had been very different. As a child, he had to be the adult. He remembers running out in the snow in his pajamas, barefoot, chasing his mother down the street, begging her not to take the overdose she’d threatened to take. He remembers hiding in the closet for hours as he heard his parents destroy each other and their house. Then there was the pain of missing college to care for his one-year-old brother, pretending to be his father whenever they went out in public.

These things were regular occurrences in his life, and in the midst of destruction, he determined not to be like his parents.

After he became a Christian, things went well for a while. He grew and moved on. He went to seminary and college and married. Yet he found himself coping less and less as anxiety and depression began to hit him harder and harder. Only in hindsight did he understand that he’d suffered from depression as a child. He’d had a brief respite for two or three years, when he initially became a Christian, but old pains began to resurface as life moved on.

In spite of growing anxiety, Jason pressed on. He worked a hundred hours a week to support his family, commuted three hours a day, and raised a young family, all the while planting the church he hoped to someday pastor full-time. His mounting depression and anxiety were kept at bay only by working harder and harder. His first day of being a full-time pastor finally arrived. He celebrated this momentous day by having a nervous breakdown. Throughout the day, he rotated between being catatonic and suffering panic attacks. He thought he was dying, or going insane. His body, brain, soul, and mind finally gave in to an inevitable collapse.

He says, “It was tough on my wife. All I could do was get up, see the kids off to school, go back to bed, get up when the kids came home, and preach on Sunday. How I did that, I have no idea. Our church was wonderful. They told me that I had always said it was okay to be ill, and now it was my turn. During this time the church grew.”

Jason got medication and went into therapy, and he began to face up to his past and the abuse he’d never dealt with before. The coping mechanism he’d developed—caring for others to make up for his own lack of care—had found an unhealthy place in the church. It was easy to excel in church by caring. As a nineteen-year-old, he had led small groups and ministries with adults. He’d seen his leadership role as having an “old head on young shoulders.”

He was determined not to be his parents, to not do what they did or be who they were. This determination had helped him survive, but it finally came undone one day in therapy when his therapist asked, “Why do you define your life by who you don’t want to be, rather than who you do?” Jason realized in that moment that he had spent so many years as a workaholic, pushing, striving, and fearful that he would become his parents.

“Why do you define your life by who you don’t want to be, rather who you do?”

At the lowest point of his breakdown, Jason felt as if he were losing his faith. The questions and doubts he’d kept at bay came crashing in, demanding to be faced. One night, Jason took his Bible to bed and held it to his chest; he told God he didn’t know how to read it anymore, and this was as close as he could get to it. He hoped it was okay with God.

Jason says, “Now I know it was, and is. During that devastating time, I realized that Jesus was still the same Jesus I had given my life to. It was the systems I’d built up that had fallen apart. So I went back to seminary to do part-time research in theology and to think through the things I was realizing. Theology saved my faith. And theology created something new in my life, and in our church. As it helped me grow, it helped our church grow.

“I know I have a long way to go and may suffer many dark days until I die. Genetics and a family disposition to depression mean I will often wrestle with life. But in the wrestling, I find dependence on Christ, and I find re-creation and new life.

“The pattern of destruction and fear I knew as a child has abated. It has not been passed on to my wife, my children. In them and in my church community, I see hope. With them, I do life in the deepest and most painful and joyful and happy ways. My anxiety and depression, like Winston Churchill’s ‘Black Dog,’ is something I know and take for a walk through life.”

Yes, though I walk through the (deep, sunless)
valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear or dread no evil; for You are with me;
Your rod (to protect) and Your staff (to guide), they comfort me. . . .
You anoint my head with oil; my (brimming) cup runs over.
Surely or only goodness, mercy and unfailing love
shall follow me all the days of my life;
and through the length of days the house of the Lord
(and His presence) shall be my dwelling place.

—PSALM 23:4–6 AMP
“A Dreaded Diagnosis”
Jo Franz—an outgoing young wife, mother, and talented singer involved with helping her husband in ministry—had a lot going for her.

One morning she stood in the kitchen, cooking pancakes on the cast-iron griddle for the youth choir, when she suddenly felt as if she were falling over with dizziness. Jo landed in a chair as her husband and the rest of the choir entered the room. Alarmed, she knew she had to deal with a growing set of troubling issues. That year she’d had some strange symptoms, not noticeable to anyone but her. Now she knew there was something seriously wrong with her.

After many tests, the doctor gave her the dreaded diagnosis: multiple sclerosis, a crippling disease. She had suspected the diagnosis, because the symptoms were the same as her friend’s, who had MS. Ironically, she had even done fund-raisers for MS research.

It was only later, when she was alone, that she broke down and cried with fear about the unpredictable life MS would bring. But MS was only the beginning of her difficult time. Soon after her diagnosis, she went through an unwanted divorce.

How could Jo live a full, vibrant life with the threat of a disabling disease hanging over her head? In those early, dark days, Jo could never have imagined how God would use her weakness to demonstrate His strength and joy.

Those who wait on the LORD shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles;

They shall run and not be weary,

They shall walk and not faint.

—ISAIAH 40:31
“My World Changed with a Phone Call”
It was a late May afternoon. It had been cleaning day, so there was a sense of fresh order in the house. Karen’s husband would be attending a monthly board dinner meeting; her youngest daughter, Sommer, was away for the evening. Karen looked forward to throwing a simple salad together for her solo supper.

Karen took a deep breath and savored the quiet in her home. She smiled, thinking of Sommer’s upcoming high school graduation and acceptance into college. Soon Karen and Bob would be empty-nesters—it was here already. Their oldest daughter, Hillary, had recently married a wonderful young man, and the newlyweds had moved to the Midwest to finish their education.

It was a new era for her and Bob. They had treasured every minute of parenting, but now it was time to let go.

The phone rang, interrupting Karen’s solitude. It was Hillary. But something was not right. Karen listened with growing alarm, as Hillary’s speech seemed strange. There was something very wrong. Numb with shock and suppressed fear, she responded with supernatural calm, as she said what had to be “words from God.”

Numb with shock and suppressed fear, she responded with supernatural calm.

Karen said, “I finally got my son-in-law, Kevin, on the phone, and he confirmed that Hillary had been manifesting some strange behaviors. She’d been pacing the floors in constant motion, all the while plugged into a music headset. She had quit attending class—highly unusual for her—and was becoming reclusive. She also seemed to be having hallucinations and delusions.

What could be happening? Karen had no idea what they were facing, and immediately tried to reach her husband, who was in a board meeting, but his phone was on silent. Later he told Karen she’d left him five messages, but she barely had any memory of that. She only knew she had to get to her daughter.

Kevin agreed that Karen should come immediately, and Karen got online to check flights and availability, briefly aghast at the last-minute prices; however, nothing mattered but getting there.

Over the next few months, Karen and her family began to discover that Hillary had had a psychotic break, and it appeared that she had schizoaffective disorder. One psychiatrist told them there was “less than a 10 percent chance she’ll get better in her lifetime.”

Karen wondered, How do I parent her in this new place and support my new son-in-law? How is it possible that my dreams and hopes for my child have been so drastically altered? How will we get through this? Yet Karen and her family were to learn what it means to trust God in a strange new world.

He gives power to the weak,
And to
those who have no might He increases strength.
—ISAIAH 40:29
“Why Hasn’t God Healed Our Little Boy?”
Doug and Angela Tucker were in their second year of planting a church in Athens, Georgia. They loved their people, the challenges of starting a new work, and especially their two children— seven-year-old Aleisha and fifteen-month-old David. In the late spring of 1998, Angela was back at her pre-pregnancy weight, feeling good.

Angela says, “Life seemed to be clicking right along with everything under control. One morning I was outside with some ladies of our church beside the pool. I felt nauseated and thought perhaps I had the flu. One of the women suggested I may be pregnant, but that seemed completely absurd. However, she offered me a pregnancy test that she had left over, as she was currently six weeks pregnant. Much to my surprise, the test was positive. I went home and announced the news to my husband, who was as surprised as I was. But, after adjusting to the news, we were very much looking forward to the birth of this little addition to the Tucker family.”

Four months into the pregnancy, Angela went alone to have a sonogram, a routine procedure. The sonographer began her work, and the longer she looked, the more questions she began to ask. Angela had been through this type of questioning before, when she’d had a miscarriage before David. With growing alarm, Angela asked, “What’s wrong?”

The sonographer confirmed that the baby was a boy, and then went on to tell Angela that although she wasn’t supposed to discuss these things with her, she saw cysts on the baby’s brain and a two-vessel umbilical cord instead of three vessels. She told her to come to a neonatologist the next day and have an amniocentesis performed.

Angela was devastated. What did this mean? As she shared the news with Doug, it suddenly seemed very important that the baby had a name. Doug anointed Angela with oil, and they prayed for healing, asking God to give them a name for His child.

Angela says, “Immediately the name Samuel came to my mind, but I didn’t voice this to Doug. Later, Doug asked me to research the name Samuel on the computer to see what it meant. We found that Samuel meant ‘heard of God.’ We believed that God would hear our prayer and heal our child.”

Nothing was discovered from the amniocentesis except what Samuel didn’t have. He didn’t have Down syndrome, and he didn’t have myriad other chromosome problems. With each visit to the neonatologist, new problems were discovered: a hole in Samuel’s heart, possibly webbed fingers and toes. They were told that if Samuel made it through the trauma of birth, he would very likely die within a few hours. Two doctors told Angela that she needed to abort Samuel.

They were told that if Samuel made it through the trauma of birth, he would very likely die within a few hours.

Angela said, “My heart sank beneath the depths of despair. This was the worst news I had ever had to endure in my entire life. My husband and I gathered our faith and the support of our church members and family and went through week after week of this very unstable pregnancy with Samuel. We prayed, believing that God would heal this child and that when he came from the womb, he would be as normal as any child ever born. This was not to be God’s answer.”

After a difficult delivery, Samuel finally arrived around five o’clock on January 23, 1999. He did not have a hole in his heart nor did he have webbed fingers and toes. He did, however, have very short arms and legs in proportion to the rest of his body, and he could not get enough oxygen in.

Within hours, Samuel was transferred to a children’s hospital by ambulance. Angela said, “Everything happened so fast. We were asked to sign papers saying that if Samuel died on the way, we would not hold the hospital responsible. We were told that we could not follow the ambulance for safety reasons, so they allowed us to leave before the ambulance. On the three-hour trip to Augusta, the ambulance passed us with flashing lights. The most horrifying feeling came over us, as we knew that our precious little boy was inside, fighting for his life.”

Anxious days passed, filled with tests and consultations before it was discovered that Samuel had rhizomelic chondrodysplasia punctata, or RCDP, a genetic bone disorder. Samuel’s cells were missing an enzyme that allowed the body to grow. Doug and Angela discovered they were both carriers of the gene and that both parents had to drop the gene down at the same time for a child to be affected. They learned that Aleisha and David were very likely carriers, but because they didn’t receive the gene from both of their parents, they did not have the syndrome.

The prognosis wasn’t good. One day in a consultation, Doug and Angela were told that Samuel would more than likely not live to be twelve weeks old—a year at the most. They were also told that Samuel was severely retarded. Angela waited until the doctor left the room, and then fell on the floor, begging God to heal her child.

An exhausting saga ensued—tubes, treatments, procedures, and learning how to care for Samuel at home. The early months of Samuel’s life were a confusing time for Angela, a time of questioning. She agonized, Why hasn’t God healed our little boy? After all, we’ve believed His Word, we’ve lived a holy standard of life, and we’re serving God with all we have in us. How can I trust Him to save me if I can’t trust him to heal Samuel?

Angela and Doug had no idea then how Samuel would change their lives. How much they would learn, or how their ministry would change in deep and meaningful ways.

He will feed his flock like a shepherd.
He will gather the lambs with His arm,
and carry
them in His bosom,
And gently lead those who are with young.
—ISAIAH 40:11
To You, in the Midst of Crisis
The stories and pains we’ve shared thus far in this chapter are not unusual. All of us—if we live long enough—travel unwanted paths where we face seemingly insurmountable enemies. But even though pain and loss are common to us all, when it enters our own life, it can shake us to the core; and we are desperate for help. God has provided just the help we need.
Know That the Battle Is Not Yours
There’s a story in the Bible about a time when the Israelites faced overwhelming odds as enormous armies were coming from all around to attack them, to wipe them out. They were completely outnumbered.

Their leader, Jehosaphat, didn’t know what to do. But he called the people to fast and pray. They desperately needed to hear from God to know what to do in this overwhelming situation. After fasting and praying, the people received a word from God: “This is what the LORD says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s. . . . You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the LORD will give you, O Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the LORD will be with you.’” (2 Chronicles 20:15, 17).
Remember That Your Crisis Is Just for a Season
In our family’s crisis, there were principles from God’s Word that spoke to us deeply. For weeks I prayed Psalm 23 on my daily walks: “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow . . .” Through! In all my years of reading the twenty-third Psalm, I’d never seen the word through before with such vivid understanding. The word through gave me hope; it said that our family wouldn’t stay in the valley. Yes, we were in a valley, but it was only for a season.

Yes, we were in a valley, but it was only for a season.

The crisis you are in at the moment isn’t forever. You won’t make a permanent home in the valley, and even while you are there, you are not alone.
Trust God, Even When No Answers Are in Sight
The question is not so much what to do, but whom to turn to. As Angela said, “We learned to run to Him and not from Him.”

In our family’s situation, we did not see a good endgame. How could we help our daughter place the only flesh and blood she knew in the arms of another family? How could we do such a thing? We love our babies. How do you love and let go? Impossible.

How could we help our daughter place the only flesh and blood she knew in the arms of another family?

There appeared to be no pain-free solution. Neither Amy nor the birth father felt ready for marriage or parenthood. We were concerned that the child could be bounced back and forth if she stayed in our family. How would we solve this? We studied all the angles, over and over.

This is where you’re hoping I tell you that if you do A and B, you will get C. How I wish I could, but sometimes life is not like that. In John, chapter 9, the Pharisees brought the blind man to Jesus and asked Him, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” They wanted answers. Reasons. Whose fault is this?

We often romanticize how things should be, maybe from our propensity to want a story with a happy ending. But some things defy easy answers and formulas. Sometimes we live with a mess for a while.

Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned . . . but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life” (John 9:3–7 NIV), and then Jesus went on to heal the man. There can be a higher purpose, a deeper meaning in life’s twists and turns. We don’t have to know all the answers when we stand in the truth that the battle is not ours, but God’s. Letting go in the midst of a crisis is completely opposite of what we want to do, but doing so is our only true hope for victory.
Know That You Are Not Alone
Sure, you feel alone. Feeling alone seems to be a common thread when you hit that “lowest of the low” place. You are left with a sense of helplessness and impotence, and fear can choke you. Songwriter Bobby Bare said in the song “Lonesome Valley,”

“You gotta walk that lonesome valley . . . all by yourself.” But, the reality is that even though no other person walks with us, we are not alone. The psalmist said, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow . . . I will not fear, for You are with me.”

Jacob, running away from home, slept on a rock under the stars. Alone! But he was awestruck by the presence of God: “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it . . . How awesome is this place!” (Genesis 28:16, 17). The abiding presence of the Lord dissipated his fear, his loneliness.

Years later, Jacob returned to face his brother, Esau, whom he’d cheated out of an inheritance. The night before he encountered Esau, Jacob wrestled alone with the angel on the distant side of the river: “Then Jacob was left alone; and the Man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day” (Genesis 32:24).

There is something purifying about being alone. It’s where you’re confronted with what you’re really all about—where your strength lies, what your rock-bottom motivations are. Gail Sheehy, in writing about the passages of life, said: “The older we grow, the more we become aware of the commonality of our lives, as well as our essential aloneness as navigators through the human journey.”2

But you are not truly alone, even if you feel like it. Again, the psalmist said, “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there. If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me. The darkness and the light are both alike to You” (Psalm 139:7–10, 12).
Hold On
It’s important to remember that, in the initial stage of crisis, we’re not always thinking clearly. We don’t have all the facts yet, and fear and grief can smother hope. Try not to panic. It may not be as bad as you think. It may be worse than you think. The main thing is to wait on God and hold on tight.

When we’re in pain, we’re tempted to run away, escape, distract ourselves with mind-numbing activities. It is only human. Even Jesus Himself looked to the cross with dread. He prayed in the garden: “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me!” Then he added, “Yet I want your will, not mine.” And so we, too, are held by love, caught by commitment, ensnared by our relationships.

We, too, are held by love, caught by commitment, ensnared by our relationships.

One night I wrote in my prayer journal: “Lord, I feel so exposed. . . . I want to stay home, to avoid places and people that should feel safe, but don’t.” And yet, we go on, even though we don’t know how. We keep living, even if we don’t feel like it. We muddle through an impossible place, even though there’s no fine print on how to do it.

Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed,
for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

—ISAIAH 41:10

God holds for you new dreams and fresh possibilities. He is indeed near to your breaking heart, and it is indeed true that through His mercies we are not consumed (Lamentations 3:22). In the midst of despair, there is hope. Things can get better. The sun will come up in the morning.

Hold on, my friend. Don’t look at what is going on around you; hold on to what you know—God is. And no matter how it looks, know that God can make a way when there seems to be no way.

When I am walking in darkness, on shifting ground,
remind me that you are still leading me by the hand . . .
no matter that I cannot feel your touch.
Remind me when I am passing through even the driest place
that you are ahead of me,
opening secret springs of water for my soul. Amen.
Read Psalm 23 meditatively, slowly. If possible, read it in different versions over several days, choosing a different version of Psalm 23 for each day. Take time to reflect on each verse; praying as you read.

1. In your prayer journal, rewrite Psalm 23, personalizing it: (e.g., “You, Lord, are my shepherd. I can relax into Your care, knowing You care for my every need,” etc.).

2. Ask yourself, “At this place in my life, how is He comforting me? Restoring me?”

3. What does it mean for me to “lie down beside still waters”?

4. Do any words or phrases in Psalm 23 speak to you more than others? Write them down and expand on them.


Scripture to Give You Courage

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful (Hebrews 10:23 NASB).

Come to Me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28 KJV).

As a father pities his children, so the LORD pities those who fear Him. For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust (Psalm 103:13, 14 NKJV).

Wait on the Lord; Be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; Wait, I say, on the LORD (Psalm 27:14 NKJV)!

Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the LORD your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you (Deuteronomy 31:6 NKJV).

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go (Joshua 1:9 NKJV).

But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid” (Matthew 14:27 NIV).

These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world (John 16:33 NASB).

Who still thinks there is some device

(if only he could find it)
which will make pain not to be pain?

It doesn’t really matter whether you grip the arms
of the dentist’s chair or let your hands lie in your lap.

The drill drills on.

—C. S. Lewis1

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Surviving One Bad Year includes an introduction by and Q&A with author Nancie Carmichael and discussion questions for each chapter. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book. 


Introduction From the Author

I am one of seven children, born to wheat and cattle ranchers in northern Montana. Mom and Dad, stalwarts in the community and our church, gifted me with a childhood under the Big Sky. I spent a lot of time outside, seeing the Rocky Mountains of Glacier Park off to the west…hearing meadowlarks and red-winged blackbirds in spring…going to a country school all eight grades, memorizing poetry…taking piano lessons…being a bookworm, not having a TV. These things shaped me: To this day, I love being outside—watching for birds, savoring the seasons. My husband and I live in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon, and I love nothing more than to walk along the Metolius River near our home, or hike in the mountains with friends and family. And I still love playing my piano, a form of journaling for me. And I’m still a “bookworm”!

A Conversation with Author Nancie Carmichael

What motivated you to write this book?

When we went through our own hard year that seemed to have no pain-free ending, I was carried through it by reading the Bible, which became literally life-sustaining. Later, as I looked back over the year and read through my journals, I realized we did get through it. Not always perfectly, and sometimes it was messy. But we were still “us;” we were okay. In that year, we learned important things. So I wanted to write a book to give hope to others that no matter what they’re facing, they too can survive, can have a fresh start. Each morning we are given new mercies, and we get through it that way, taking it one day at a time. I originally started the book as a daily devotional, with the idea of a new “daily mercy.” As things do, it evolved.

Why did you choose this topic?

I felt as if the topic chose me. I write out of what I’m most passionate about, to give voice to it, so my passion to share my own hope is what birthed the book. I wanted to re-affirm what I knew and learned.

What do you want readers to take away from this book?

First of all, I want to give the reader hope—that he or she can get through impossible, life-crushing disappointments and loss, and that life can be good again. I want the reader to feel empowered to take actual steps to help facilitate their healing. And ultimately, I want to encourage the reader to trust God, no matter what.

What was difficult about writing this book?

Hearing and entering into the painful stories of people I interviewed for this book was difficult. But I emerged hopeful, that if they can survive, others can, too. But they were hard to hear.

What is the un-said message of this book?

As an adoptive mom to my daughter (and mom to four biological sons), I thought I knew about adoption. I did—but I knew only one side of it. When I helped my daughter relinquish her baby, I learned the other side of adoption. I’ve come to believe we often have a romanticized view of adoption. In many adoption stories, the birth mother is ignored or discounted, or seen as deficient in some way. I believe my daughter and her now-husband are extremely courageous for realizing their child needed parents who were ready to be parents. Some day I may write a book about adoption. I’m interested in seeing how an open adoption—depending on the circumstances—can be a wonderful, viable arrangement.

What did you learn about yourself in writing this book that you didn’t know before?

I was reminded that so much of life is about letting go—how to love and let go. It’s a curious paradox, but essential to growth in every way. And I was reminded how hard it is for me to let go! I hang onto people and things like a bull-dog.


Questions for Discussion

Chapter One:
  • Share with one another what your most profound crisis has been.
  • What made it so difficult for you?

 Chapter Two:

  • Describe a loss in your life. What was your immediate reaction?
  • What would you tell someone else who was in the midst of a similar loss or crisis?

 Chapter Three:
  • Describe a time in your life when you had a “dark night of the soul,” or experienced depression. Did you identify a cause?
  • What helped you emerge from it?

 Chapter Four:
  • Share with one another a time when words impacted you—both negatively and then positively.
  • Discuss effective ways of choosing healing words.

Chapter Five:
  • Share with one another ways that restore you physically, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally.
  • Describe situations that keep you from caring for yourself, and how you can be intentional about it.

Chapter Six:
  • Tell one another how someone reached out to you when you were in need.
  • Then share how you have reached out for help to facilitate your own healing.
  • What have you learned about the importance of community?

Chapter Seven:
  • Describe ways that help you overcome discouragement.
  • Share with one another what keeps you going, and what makes you want to quit.
  • Take time to encourage one another!

Chapter Eight:
  • Describe a time when you felt overwhelmed.
  • How could an attitude of praise change your situation?
  • Share with one another two or three of your “blessings.”

Chapter Nine:
  • Share with one another a person or situation that you know you must let go of.
  • What is difficult about letting go? What would be freeing about letting go?
  • Describe a time when forgiveness changed your life.

Chapter Ten:
  • Describe a time in your life when you simply had to wait.
  • What did you learn in that time?
  • Share with one another what trust means to you

About The Author

Nancie Carmichael and her husband, Bill, were the founding publishers of Christian Parenting Today, Virtue, and Parents of Teenagers magazines, with a combined readership of over one million. Nancie is the author or co-author of more than a dozen books. For thirty-five years, she and her husband have conducted conferences across the U.S. and Canada on marriage, family, parenting, and leadership. She and her husband have five children and seven grandchildren.

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