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Finding God in the Story You Didn't Want

Air Date 08/24/2016

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Author and speaker Laurie Polich Short discusses the struggles she endured as a single person trusting in God to fulfill her deep desire for a mate – a longing that was not fulfilled until much later in her life than she had hoped for. 

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Episode Transcript

Opening:

Teaser:

Mrs. Laurie Polich Short: I was working in the ministry and leading other people to Christ and now I'm having this huge season of doubt that God is still good when I looked at the circumstances of my life. You know, it's one thing if you're single for a long time, but to get that close and then just have its stripped away like that, it really did feel like God was being mean to me.

End of Teaser

John Fuller: That's Laurie Polich Short and you'll hear more from her today about living well, even in the midst of a story that you didn't want or even choose. This is "Focus on the Family." Your host is focus president and author, Jim Daly and I'm John Fuller

Jim Daly: I'll tell you, it is so easy at times to question God or even worse, completely walk away from him when our lives don't turn out the way we thought they should or would. Laurie's story is in the context of decades of singleness, when her heart cry was for marriage, but her story is so much bigger than that and speaks to all of us who have had a dream crushed in some way--a diagnosis maybe we can't escape or the death of a loved one. And the importance of having hope, perseverance and faith even in the midst of a challenging season, that is what Laurie's gonna cover today.

John: And she's a speaker, an author and associate pastor at Ocean Hills Covenant Church in Santa Barbara, California. Laurie's latest book is Finding Faith in the Dark: When the Story of Your Life Takes a Turn You Didn't Plan. And let's hear now how our conversation with her got underway.

Body:

Jim: Laurie, welcome to "Focus on the Family."

Laurie: Thanks so much.

Jim: Now living in Santa Barbara, okay, come on. That's like the best place (Laughter) on earth.

Laurie: I know and she writes a book on Faith in the Dark (Laughter); what's that about? (Laughing)

Jim: If you haven't been to Santa Barbara, California, I know why President Reagan wanted to live there. (Laughter) It is—

Laurie: That's [it] exactly.

Jim: It is gorgeous.

Laurie: You just have to not want to buy a home.

Jim: Yeah. (Laughter) That's right. They're tough to afford.

Laurie: Yes.

Jim: Hey, Laurie, you talk a lot in your book about living a good story and I want to start there, because we're gonna talk about a lot of negative things, but it is about living that good story. And it's not the story of materialism and all of our wants being met necessarily. It's about walking a good story in God.

Laurie: Absolutely and when you think about it, we don't get to pick our script in life. We're born into a family we don't get to choose. We have circumstances, a lot of them that we don't get to choose. And so, our only choice really is how we're going to respond and live the story that we've been given. And then of course, as we live it, there are changes that get made while we're living the story that we're given. So, certainly we are working in concert with God to live the best story that we can.

Jim: Let me ask you to know your story a bit better for the listeners, what was your greatest heart's desire when you were in your 20's, your later teens? What were you craving? What did you want see your life turn out like?

Laurie: Well, it's interesting. I had a lot of dreams and I went to college and was a theater arts major, because I thought I wanted to be an actress at the time. And I always thought marriage for me would be something that would happen after college. I wasn't the "ring by spring" gal. (Laughter)—

Jim: Ring … that's the first time I've heard that, "ring by spring. "

Laurie: Oh, oh, no, that's a real deal. (Laughter) But I sort of thought by 25, you know how it is, you start laying out before God what you—

Jim: Your plan.

Laurie: --envision, exactly. And so, about 25, I'll get married and I'll have my 2.5 kids and of course, 25 came and went and then 30 and that's when a lot of women, I think in particular, their biological clock is ticking. They're going, "Okay, God." You start to pray a little louder and then once I hit 40, I began to suspect that God was deaf, because you know, it just wasn't happening. I was sort of the poster child for the heartbreak and I had literally at that time, I was speaking and I had people all over the country (Chuckling) praying for me. Please have mercy on this girl. Bring her a husband.

And finally at 42, I got engaged and it was wonderful time in my life. My family was thrilled. [I] had my two showers and bought my wedding dress, the most beautiful dress you've ever seen. And then my fiancé got deployed. And that was really, I think, when my life began to take that turn.

However, I held on and thought, okay, I can wait eight more months. You know, I've been waiting this long and so, I turned 43 and in the course of his deployment, he and his ex-wife began reconnecting and she began to have second thoughts about their divorce. So, when he came home, they remarried and we broke up. And so, my engagement ended after a year and a half.

Jim: Let me ask you about that, because as I read the story, I mean, in some ways, rightfully some will say that, that was a good thing.

Laurie: Absolutely. I come from a home where my parents are divorced and that, I think, Jim, was what made it so conflicting for me.

Jim: Yeah, how did you process that? I mean, you're talkin' to the same God that they're talkin' to.

Laurie: Exactly.

Jim: And here their marriage is being reconciled—

Laurie: Right.

Jim: --and you're the outsider, not the insider—

Laurie: Right.

Jim: --all of a sudden. How did you process that?

Laurie: Well, it was interesting, 'cause I actually had, I think, very well-meaning Christians say, you know, "Isn't it great that God used you to bring them back together?" (Laughing)

Jim: And how did you bite your tongue and say—

Laurie: Oh. (Laughing)

Jim: --yes, I am quite an angel, aren't I?

Laurie: Well, I hope you have the same opportunity someday. (Laughter) Right?

Jim: It had a lot of grief in it--

Laurie: Oh—

Jim: --for you.

Laurie: --horrible grief and what was even more horrible is that, it was a good thing. It was a good thing that they got reconciled. They had two children who I became close to and I knew they would be thrilled. And so, really my encounter at that point was with the Lord.

Jim: Hm.

Laurie: And I had a Jacob experience

Jim: Yeah, how did that go? I'd like to hear that.

Laurie: Well, there were days. And you know, at that point, I really felt like Peter when Jesus started having some hard teachings and then He looked at them, His disciples, especially the three and He said, "Well, what about you? What are you gonna do?" And Peter looks at Jesus and says, "Where are we gonna go? (Laughing) We've left everything to follow You." And I felt like I was in too deep in some ways and like—

Jim: Well, that's—

Laurie: --[it was] confusing.

Jim: --interesting. What do you mean by "in too deep?"

Laurie: I had been following Christ since I was 18. I was not only going to church.I was working in the ministry and I was speaking and I was writing books and I was encouraging other people and leading other people to Christ. And now I'm having this huge season of doubt that God is still good, when I looked at the circumstances of my life, because, you know, it's one thing if you're single for a long time, but to get that close and then just have its stripped away like that, it really did feel like God was being mean to me.

Jim: Talk to us before we move through the story a little further, [about] this issue of circumstances. Because one of the things that I have always struggled with and of course, I came up in really rough situations as an orphan kid and all that. And I think it was a benefit to quickly learn early in life that you can't put your hope and your joy or your trust in your circumstances, 'cause it's so temporal and it shifts so quickly and people let you down. And you've gotta find a different source for that contentment, which of course, in the Christian life is your faith and your hope and your relationship in Jesus Christ and what you learn there.

But here you were the Christian, the seasoned veteran, leading people to the Lord and yet, you're facing this. You're saying, my circumstances aren't goin' my way; Lord, come on.

Laurie: Yeah.

Jim: How did you reconcile that?

Laurie: Well, and I think you said it, Jim. You had an experience early on where you had to come to that place in your life, I mean, being a child in that situation, you experienced disappointment, so you go one way or the other.

Jim: Hm.

Laurie: You either decide, well, there must not be a God if this is what's happening to me. Or there is a God and I've gotta figure out what His agenda is, what He's doing, where am I in the process and what is He trying to do in my life? And that was really my wrestling. That was where I went

Jim: Laurie, let me ask you, being single for that long, Jean and I, we didn't do the ring in spring thing (Laughter), but we were just out of college, I was and Jean was still finishing up college. But you know, we got married at 25. We did this.

Laurie: Yeah.

Jim: We've had that dream fulfilled and we felt we were made for each other and you know, now with the toothpaste squeezing, I'm not so sure. (Laughter) But I'm teasing. I mean, we just—

Laurie: Yeah.

Jim: --we really felt of one—

Laurie: Uh-hm.

Jim: --spirit, dating, courting, marriage. We just felt always in the same place in our faith, very much a helpmate to each other. It's just been that kind of good story.

Laurie: Uh-hm.

Jim: Help me understand your story. What is it like to be in your 40's, single? Because in the Scripture, you know, I would say, well, Paul was tellin' you, if you can do this life single, then do it that way—

Laurie: Yeah.

Jim: --'cause it's far easier, which when Paul gives you advice, you might want to take it. So, you know, he says marriage is gonna really distract you and you're gonna be more about the things of your spouse and your kids than you're gonna be about the Lord. So, why for the single person, is it hard to embrace that?

Laurie: Well, I think with anything in our lives that we're lacking and for me, it happened to be singleness, marriage became a bigger deal.

Jim: Did it become an idol?

Laurie: Well, I sort of saw my life as someone who would live without a leg. You know, you would—

Jim: Incomplete.

Laurie: --probably prefer to have a leg, but you're willing to live without it, because just for me in particular and I have met other people who are perfectly happy being single. They want to be single and I think that is an absolutely fine way to live. And just as Paul said, if you can do it, do it.

But I think if you have that longing and you want to do it right, you don't want to just live with somebody. You don't want to, you know, you're trying to follow the Lord, then marriage is something that you desire.

But you know, I expand the stories in the book to go beyond just singleness. My story was singleness, but there are other stories that everybody faces, some challenge in their life. Either you were not able to have a child and you longed to have a child or maybe your spouse gets cancer or—

Jim: Yeah.

Laurie: --or you know, whatever that particular challenge is. I think everybody goes through a season like that and mine happened to be singleness. So, I think it became a bigger deal because of the lack, I guess or just having to live that way for so long.

Jim: Yeah. You're listening to "Focus on the Family." Today our guest is Laurie Polich Short and her book, Finding Faith in the Dark and it's a great title, because people want hope. Let me ask you this though, Laurie. In Psalm 34:18, it's one of my favorite verses, although it's a very dark verse, it says that God is close to the brokenhearted and He saves those crushed in spirit. And the dark part is that you go through that kind of suffering, but obviously, the Lord is with you. That's the point of the verse.

If this life is about tilting you into God's arms, in other words, He knows that we are gonna suffer at some point, in some way like you've just described, somehow God is saying, okay, in My economy, this can be for your good. I will teach you things through this. Fall into My arms and trust Me.

But we human beings, we want comfort. We want ease. We want no trouble. And someone once said to me, if this suffering leads us into a deeper relationship with God, shouldn't we as Christians say, "Lord, I don't want this, but bring it on—

Laurie: Hm.

Jim: --'cause it'll make me more like You." How come we struggle with that?

Laurie: That is a bold prayer, isn't it? I struggle with that still. But if you look in some of the hidden places in Scripture and even in the Psalms, there's a little Psalm, Psalm 131 that talks about, David's talking about his soul being like a weaned child. As you read the Psalm, clearly David's either waiting for something or something's not happening in his life and he said, my soul is like a weaned child.

And if you think about that, as parents, we are in a process with our children of stripping away some of their comfort, so they begin to grow in their life. And if you think about that with our Lord, spiritually He wants to grow our faith. And the only way to grow that muscle is to exercise it, to have to be put in a situation where you don't have what you would normally lean on.

And so, now, suddenly, you are in some ways, I think it's God drawing you closer to Himself. We often think of suffering as God must not like me. He's not giving me what—

Jim: Right.

Laurie: --I want. But I think the opposite is true. We learn that in Job. I mean [Satan and God] are having this conversation and Job is the first one God brings up. Well, have you considered my servant, Job? I mean, it's like He's pulling out His wallet, saying, "Look at my favorite guy," you know.

Jim: Yeah.

Laurie: Look at his life. And then you see what happens to him and you go, well, how does that make sense, except for the fact that God was taking Job to a deeper level and we see that at the end of the book.

Jim: Yeah.

Laurie: Because once He takes him on a world tour and shows Job how big He is, Job doesn't even need his question answered anymore.

Jim: Yeah.

Laurie: He just says, yeah, I didn't even know what I was talking about.

Jim: But it really takes a deep faith to—

Laurie: Absolutely.

Jim: --to traverse that kind of emotional pit—

Laurie: Yes.

Jim: --when you're in that dark place like you say in the book. How does a person that's in the pit of darkness, as you call it, that desperate place, how does a person hang onto hope? Hope did you—

Laurie: Right.

Jim: --hang onto hope as that single person, now passing your 40's? You know—

Laurie: Yeah, right.

Jim: --you're now moving through your 40's. How did you have hope that okay, Lord, I'm still trusting You?

Laurie: That's right. Well, I think and one of the things I talk about in the book, what helped me was having sort of a Job-like experience, in that I began to lift my eyes and look for God in other stories.

Jim: After the break up.

Laurie: That's right. I mean, you know, if you stay myopic in your tiny little story and all you see is loss, it's really hard to get a grip on where God is in the midst of that. But if you lift your eyes and get a bigger perspective and begin to engage in the stories of others, one of the things that I did was, you know, I longed to be a wife and a mom and I clearly heard the Spirit of God say to me, "Well, if you want to be a mom, you can be a mom. There [are] kids all over the world that you can be a mom to, if you're not hung up on the biology piece, right?"

Jim: Right.

Laurie: And that really struck me, that we have choices in how we live those seasons. And so, for me, getting involved in the inner city, in particular with one girl and that whole story and then getting involved with Compassion International and beginning to sponsor children and just beginning to engage in God's work even in my season of loss. That was so therapeutic and helpful for me. I began to restore my faith.

And I think it was honestly, the willingness to say, "Lord, I'm laying this down." 'Cause honestly, at 44, I thought, well, it's probably not gonna happen.

Jim: Let me read something out of your book. I (Chuckling) always love quoting an author, but—

Laurie: I hope I remember it.

Jim: --yeah, I'm (Laughter) sure you will, but let me read this. You said, "Just when we think we have a handle on how God works in our lives, He does something that throws us off. This presents us with a crisis that can, if we let it, widen our concept of Him. We move from having a God shaped by our faith to having a faith shaped by our God. That is a powerful statement.

Laurie: Hm.

Jim: I love it, because it works against our humanity in a sense. Talk more about the end of that, about, are we making God into our faith or are we letting God create His faith in us?

Laurie: Well, I don't know what it is, but we have such a need to control and as (Laughter) soon as God does something, we package it. We make T-shirts about it and you know, this is what God's gonna do.

And I have heard so many messages like that. Well, God works this way. This is how He [works] and I, in my journey, I have found that as soon as I do that, God decides to work another way, because He is alive. He is a living God. He doesn't want to be our Santa Claus God. He wants to be a living God.

And if we look through Scripture, we see evidence of that, not only in the way God works. I mean, you look at just the story of Elijah alone and how many manifestations of God you see right just in that story. And they were never the same, never the same.

But then in Jesus you see the same thing. He healed one person one way and then He would heal another person completely different[ly]. And so, I think whenever we try to make it a formula, we've lost the person of God, He is a Person. He is a real living God and He wants to be that in our lives. And so, in a way, He's inviting us by just giving us little signs of the way He works, into seeing how big He is and what He can do. And so, faith is really an adventure to me. It's not a formula at all. (Laughing)

Jim: Exactly right. And at the end of the story, which is the beginning of the story, tell us what's happened. I mean, so that breakup occurred. You went through the desert.

Laurie: Absolutely.

Jim: You continued to trust in the Lord, although you asked Him tough questions.

Laurie: Yes.

Jim: God, where are You? Are You there? Knock, knock.

Laurie: Yes.

Jim: And then eventually you felt like the Lord answered your prayer.

Laurie: Well, you know, I was back in my apartment that I thought I was moving out of (Laughter). All the shower gifts were in a garage that I would never see again and oh, it was a really painful discouraging time.

And I got a phone call from a friend of mine, an old friend, a pastor up in Santa Barbara and I was in Orange County at the time. And he said that his staff were praying about this position and my name came up and honestly, I heard my name in prayer in the same sentence and I was like, okay. I'm gonna go up. I'm not looking for a job right now, but I'm gonna go up and see what this is about.

And one of the points I make is, that I really feel like people get focused on what it is they want in their life at a particular time. And we have to pay attention to doors that open, 'cause they may be other doors that God is leading you into, but it may be a series of doors that will eventually lead to something that you are praying for. But you have to follow God in the way He's going to do that.

Jim: Hm.

Laurie: So, I always say, pay attention to the open doors. So, I went up there and I actually fell in love with the church and it was funny. You guys will laugh about this. The first day in Cherry Town, I'm lookin' around, thinking, "Okay, he's gotta be here. He's here." (Laughing)

John: So, you still had your mind—

Laurie: Oh, yeah. (Laughing)

John: --on getting married.

Laurie: Yeah.

John: You had not let go of that.

Jim: Have I walked in the door?

Laurie: No, oh, no, no. It was always a hope and a dream for me, but it wasn't until three years later that a friend of mine told me about this guy that he goes running with. And you know, I was always being set up with everybody, but he wasn't the type to set up people and he had never said anything like that before, so I was curious. But he did say, "But you know, his ex-wife just left him." And I was like, "Oh, no! (Laughing) No, 'cause when I come in, she'll come back," you know.

Jim: Yeah.

Laurie: And so, you know, I think that fear is a big element. Whatever fear you have in your life of maybe a trauma you've gone through, you sometimes can get paralyzed by that. I'm not gonna go forward.

Jim: You don't want to go back there.

Laurie: That's right.

Jim: Yeah.

Laurie: So, you might, by your own choice in that, be keeping something away that God wants to bring to you if you're willing to walk through that fear.

Jim: Oh, yeah.

Laurie: And so, I met him and he was just so wonderful, so beyond what I could've ever imagined. But we were very cautious together. He had been through a lot of pain himself and so had I and so, you know, he went back to her probably two or three times to make sure (Laughing), because we both just said, we're not doing this again. And he—

Jim: Right.

Laurie: --was very committed to his marriage if it was gonna work out. And so, we made sure that, that was the course. And then to watch God pick up the broken pieces of our lives and bring us together and of course, he had a 5-year-old, who turned 6 when we got married. And that wedding for so many people was so much bigger than a wedding—

Jim: Hm.

Laurie: --because it was representative of what God could do. I mean, I was 49; he was 49. He was four months older than me, so I would say he robbed the cradle. (Laughter0

Jim: Yeah, right. (Laughter)

Laurie: My bridesmaids were all in the 40's. One was celebrating her 28th wedding anniversary--

Jim: Oh, yeah.

Laurie: --on our wedding. So, it was one of those, I think it brought people that hope of, you know what? God, if you woke up this morning and you're still breathing, your story's not over. And you do not know what God is going to do and that's part of the adventure of faith. You don't know tomorrow what God is gonna bring into your life. And I think we live with that hope while holding it loosely.

Jim: Well, and that's really well-said, yet the pain of where you were at and where perhaps a listener is at, you know, they're not through the doors yet.

Laurie: That's right.

Jim: They're still trapped in the bad room where it's dark and maybe they're even searching along the wall, looking for that doorknob. Speak to them and what hope they need to find. How do you get up and start breakfast and get through your day and—

Laurie: Yeah.

Jim: --what are some of those practical things that when you're really feeling despair, that you can put your hope in, even if everything inside of you is saying, "Hopeless, hopeless?"

Laurie: Yeah, I think that it comes from just getting yourself out of bed and doing the best you can do to engage in the world around you as you see it right now. That's really what we see Joseph doing. I mean, I think about how it just went from bad to worse in his life before he finally ended up in Pharaoh's palace. And each time he would get up and look around and think, what can I do? How can I engage in the world around me right now and be a part of somebody else's story or be a part of other things? Widen my perspective a little bit to my loss.

And as you're walking through that season, remember that you have a God who really literally at any time can do anything. And for whatever reason, if you are alive today, He has a plan and a purpose for your life. And it might not be what you want at this particular time, but if you trust Him, you will see so much more when you look back. You'll see what He was doing so much more. And it's a big long story that He's writing on your life and you never know what the next chapter will be. So, just hold on, because you have a God that you can trust.

Jim: Oh.

Laurie: And read the Word, because there are so many stories in Scripture that can encourage your faith. And I know for me, I clung to some of them in those seasons and still do. And I really didn't want to write the book as, If You Pray Really Hard, God'll Bring You a Husband book, because I never know what God is going to do and He works differently in everyone's life.

Jim: Yeah.

Laurie: But I know He's good and I know He has His eye on eternity. Those two things I know.

Jim: And those are two wonderful things to hang onto. And Laurie, you've done a great job expressing that. [I] love the book, Finding Faith in the Dark, Laurie Polich Short, thank you for being with us. Congratulations—

Laurie: Thank you--

Jim: --that you made that—

Laurie: --so much.

Jim: --dream come true—

Laurie: Thanks.

Jim: --that the Lord fulfilled His commitment. And you know what? If you're in a tough spot, call us here at Focus on the Family. I mean, we are here for you. We want to talk to you. It's our heart's desire. It's what we do and what Laurie said a moment ago is so true. If you're in that spot, try to look beyond your circumstances. Look to engage with others. And it's a strange thing the Lord will do. When you give of yourself, it will begin to lift you up and give hope in your own life for your own dark places. And it's a beautiful way to spend your time in a way that I think the Lord wants you to. So, Laurie, thanks for bein' with us.

Laurie: Thank you so much for having me.

Closing:

John: A good reminder that God is in the midst of your story, no matter how it twists or turns. And if you'd like to make an appointment to talk with one of our counselors as Jim mentioned, our number is 800. the letter A and the word FAMILY: 800-232-6459.

Jim: And can I say, if we've helped you in your marriage, your parenting or life, would you help us? In the past 12 months, our counseling team has fielded 50,000 calls from folks like you and we're only able to come alongside you in your pain because of your faithful support to this not-for-profit ministry. So, if you're able, please make a donation today to help the next person. Stand in the gap for them and let's be there together.

John: Make a generous contribution online at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio or when you call 800-A-FAMILY. Also get a CD or instant download of this conversation. We'll include more from Laurie that we just couldn't present to you today and ask for a copy of Laurie's book, Finding Faith in the Dark, which chronicles her story and also the story of many others who have walked challenging, but ultimately rewarding roads that lead to a deeper understanding of God. In fact, make a generous contribution of any amount today and we'll send Laurie's book to you as a way of having a great resource for you in the days ahead.

Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening. I'm John Fuller, inviting you back tomorrow, when we'll hear from Joanne Kraft about how being a mean mom can actually be a good thing.

Excerpt:

Mrs. Joanne Kraft: A mean mom understand she is raising an adult, not a child. A mean mom keeps her word when it's hard. A mean mom asks forgiveness. A mean mom loves passionately and loves more than she disciplines, but a mean mom, I think the hardest thing, she keeps her word when it's hard.

End of Excerpt

John: That's Joanne Kraft on the next "Focus on the Family" with Jim Daly, as we once again, help you and your family thrive.

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Laurie Polich Short

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Laurie Polich Short is a popular public speaker and author of the book Finding Faith in the Dark. She has also written Bible studies for students, teen devotionals and resources for youth workers. Laurie is an associate pastor of small groups at Ocean Hills Covenant Church in Santa Barbara, Calif. Learn more about Laurie at her website, www.laurieshort.com.