A Story About Taking Refuge in God | By Greg & Dawn Stephens.
Have you ever thought to yourself, I have no idea how to help my husband? Have you cried to God, "Please, tell me what to do!"?
The marital journey of discouragement and difficulty through which my husband, Greg, and I trudged, began one day in 2000. He called one afternoon to say that his company was closing, and everyone was losing their jobs. He'd been employed there for five years but was given no severance and no warning. To add to our frustration, we'd moved into a new home, with a larger mortgage payment, only six months earlier.
Greg came home that day, opened a home office, and began pursuing contacts in the industry. He quickly was hired to work contract for peer companies in his field. But that work was inconsistent, which made it difficult to meet our financial obligations.
Fast-forward two years. We adopted our son, Tyler, in the summer of 2003, but adoption was both financially and emotionally taxing. Trying to juggle two work schedules, the expense of child care, and Greg's inconsistent income began to take its toll on him. Then, in fall 2004, he experienced another stressful tum. His mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and leukemia.
Over the next two and half years, Greg walked a journey that included taking his mom to doctor appointments, making treatment decisions on her behalf, and traveling to out-of-state cancer centers.
Unfortunately, we lost his mother in the summer of 2007, but through Greg's experiences as her caregiver, God healed them both. He took Greg's mother home to heaven, where she's cancer-free, and He gave Greg a direction in life – a career in which his gifts could be used to help others and a job to provide an income for our family. But those open doors didn't completely diminish his deep despair and grief from losing such a godly woman. She was truly his cheerleader whose journey inspired him to start a nonprofit particular to leukemia. Within a year, it grew to a national organization seeking to educate the public, advocate for patients, and promote awareness of the disease.
We'll probably never understand why God chose to use my mother-in-law's death in His plan for Greg's life, but He did. It was then that Isaiah 55:8-9 became real in our lives:
“‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’”
During those dark days, while we waited and pleaded for God to do something in my husband's life, I learned a few lessons I hope will encourage you.
Run to God.
You may want to run from the day-to-day struggles of uncertainty and questions. It will also be normal to wonder if God sees and cares about what your husband and family are experiencing. But, remember a few things: Wherever you run, life follows. If you must run, run to God. Give up trying to solve your problems, and allow God to handle them. Focus on running to God each day – your load will be lighter.
“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:29-30
Stay committed to Bible study.
As hard as it is to stay focused on what God is telling you during your husband's struggles, do! Commit to read the Word daily in order to anchor your thoughts and emotions. Set your heart and mind on His ways, not your worries. Carve out time each day to engage in uninterrupted prayer, even if it's difficult to find that time.
I used my car as a prayer closet. I read and prayed there each morning before going into the office. Ask God to help you be creative in how you stay connected to Him. Attending weekly worship services and participating consistently in a women's Bible study or small group can encourage and fortify you to face day-to-day struggles.
Fight for your husband.
Verbalize, through spoken or written words, your love and commitment to your husband and marriage. People walking through seasons of discouragement often think unhealthy thoughts like leaving their family, that life is better somewhere else, or that everyone is against them. Don't believe the enemy's lies. Fight them with the Word of God.
There will be days your spouse is too discouraged to fight. During those times, ask God to help you guide your husband to a deeper faith by reading Scripture to him, praying with him before he begins his day, contradicting pessimistic beliefs with Christ-centered and scripturally consistent truth, and stopping him from negative self-talk.
As I look back on our journey, even as it continues to unfold, I thank God for the perseverance and faith that our troubles grew in me.
Count it all joy...when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. – James 1:2-4
When we are in a deep valley it can be easy to lose sight of all the small ways God is orchestrating our story and proving Himself to be faithful. Even in the midst of unimaginable circumstances, He can display His goodness and a greater joy than we have ever known.
My mom was a Godly and strong woman. When she was first diagnosed with cancer, a rare form of Leukemia called Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML), we didn’t realize it would end as traumatically as it did. She continued working and serving her family through her treatments. When she died, there was some anger there. I wrestled with that and questioned God: “Why did you let her die in such a hard way?”
And I was angry at God for a while. But He proved Himself to still be in control by laying a path that opened up a world to now. Now we are seeing so many more people who have been diagnosed with this cancer living – and living longer.
Three days after my mom died, we knew we had to do something. We couldn’t walk away. We’d learned too much through the research we’d done. So, I started an organization to raise awareness and funds for cancer research. The Lord provided a way for me to meet the right people, and He gave me favor with them. I was able to make incredible connections and pull things together for our organization due to many seemingly unconnected events. Through a series of situations God put together, He allowed us to be successful and push medical research further.
One of the things the Lord taught us through that was His consistency. He never changes. It’s interesting to see that when you start coming out of that valley, He’s still there. And he still cares. All is not lost.
But here’s the thing with depression – it can be hard when tough things come up again not to fall back into that cloud. It’s not something that once you’re rosie, everything’s rosie. There are hills and valleys. As scripture tells us, we’re going to walk through those valleys. You have to understand you’re always going to have some type of challenge you encounter in life. And when there is another valley, it can be difficult to find peace. But I always have to go back to those deep places, and I realize that He is consistent and faithful. One of the things we have to do is remind ourselves that He’s always going to be faithful. He has a plan.
Even now, Dawn and I are going through a time where we really need to be way up under His wing and relying on Him.
As we lean on God and walk through this, there are a few practical things we do that help us push through.
Take time to decompress.
Sometimes just sitting together quietly can make a difference. So many times words aren’t really necessary. When you love someone, sometimes simply the security of being together and doing things together that are small successes or accomplishments can bring peace. This could be something as simple as painting a room or working in the yard. It can be encouraging to say, “we’ve achieved this goal, or we’ve accomplished this task.”
Taking it one step further, having the courage to go do something you’re uncomfortable with or fearful of can help you to step completely outside of the dark place you’re in and alter your perspective. It’s like tossing a line out and using it to pull yourself out of that hole. Do something that draws you outside of yourself. You have to realize you can’t fix it all at once. You have to fix little pieces at a time. Small successes are good. Big successes are too, but you’ve got to have the small successes along the way.
Rekindle old friendships.
Foundational friendships are important. There’s something about the people who’ve been there with you through a lot. Those are people you can go to and say, “remember when…?”
Remembering times before our valleys also reminds us that life can be good again. Our friends can help us remember to be thankful for God’s provision. The Lord allows those times to be used to grow us. And often it’s not easy to reach out. As a man, as a leader and provider for your family, it can be difficult to go to a brother and tell him you’re struggling. I want to encourage men to go, to meet with a brother and be willing to share. You can be strengthened by one another.
Remember God’s faithfulness in your life.
When anger or discouragement threatens to take over, don’t let your anger filter what you know to be true. Don’t filter through what you feel – filter through what you know to be true about God and the truth of His Word, the truth of how He’s created and gifted you. He is faithful be there beside you through it all.
Greg and Dawn Stephens have a son, Tyler (15), and have been married for over 25 years. They have been members of Brook Hills since 1996. Dawn graduated from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary Women's Ministry certificate program, has served on the Alabama Baptist State Women's Ministry leadership team, and currently serves as a Lifeway Women's Ministry trainer and as the Women’s Minister at Brook Hills. Greg is the Founder and Executive Director of The National CML Society (NCMLS), which he founded in 2007 as a local nonprofit called Carolyn’s Hope. In 2009, it became NCMLS and continues today as an enormous resource, serving the needs of the CML community nationwide.
For those who may be experiencing discouragement or love someone who is dealing with depression, here are a couple of resources Greg and Dawn want to share with you.
30 Days of Hope for Dealing With Depression | By Brenda Poinsett
Trusting God – Even When Life Hurts | By Jerry Bridges