It took me forever to learn to correctly spell desert and dessert. It wasn't until a teacher in high school said, “Remember, dessert has two s's like food has two o's” that I finally got it. Then a few years later I moved to the desert. That's when I really began to learn the difference.
There are millions of people who live in desert and semi-desert areas who love where they live. I was never one of them. I call our 7 1/2 years living in Phoenix, Arizona, “our desert experience” for a reason: it was a hard, hard life. I usually liken it to the Israelites' desert experience – full of trials and tests, more enemies than friends, and not seeing until the end how much God helped us grow.
But sometimes life hands you a dessert experience. That was how we felt about most of our 3 1/2 years in Sydney, Australia. The first year was difficult because we lived paycheck-to-paycheck in a tiny cockroach-infested one-room apartment. But the second time we lived there was hands down the most blessed period of our lives!
We lived in the most gorgeous apartment we've ever lived in, walking distance to the beach. We had dozens of friends and a great church, all within walking distance or a short bus ride. Financially we were in a place where we could eat out regularly and sometimes treat others, vacation once a year, go to concerts and other events, and generally enjoy life.
We could afford to enter half marathons and other races, and we lived walking distance from the most magnificent park – still our favorite place to run. We were in the best physical shape of our lives! We were able to share the joy of our new home with several friends who visited from the States. We decided I would go back to school and get my master's degree. I had a wonderful writing group a train ride away. John enjoyed his job and liked his coworkers. And we both had wonderful friends almost too numerous to count.
We've never had a period in our lives like that before or since, when everything came together at the same time in such a magnificent way. It was humbling, and we were filled with gratitude most of the time.
But…life is cyclical. Ocean waves come and go. The tide goes in and out. The moon shines brightly and then disappears, only to shine again.
And now we're back in a desert experience. If you've known us for a while, you've heard how the last four years have been – unemployment, multiple deaths of family and friends, medical problems, and so much more. Just when we think we've got our feet under us again, something knocks us down. Again. Just last week I was feeling like things were getting better, then the next day someone fraudulently emptied our checking account. These are the moments when you feel like the beatings will never end.
But there's something different about this desert experience. I'm not sure if I can explain it but…even though we've been knocked down to the point where we have to live with a friend for a while and still can barely pay all our bills, we have some truly major blessings.
They say financial difficulties are one of the leading causes of divorce, but John and I are tighter than ever. I am spiritually stronger and more joyful than I've ever been in my life. We both got tangled up in depression-caused overeating and not exercising, but we've recently turned a corner there. I plan to be my healthiest in the next couple years. 🙂 And though we don't see many friends very often, we are loved and supported by friends around the world.
Plus, despite innumerable setbacks and conversations about quitting, I am still writing and still teaching. My next self-publishing class will finally start in a couple weeks and it's going to be the best class I've ever taught! I am cautiously optimistic about where my career is going and how quickly things may be about to change.
We've been through desert experiences, and we've been through dessert experiences. But I don't know what to call where we're at now. Oh! Just as I typed that, I thought – it's an Oasis Experience! Yes! Haha!! That's what we're having! Oh, I just love that. Thanks, God, for giving us the cool description!
So what about you? Where are you – desert, dessert, or oasis? 😀 Do you feel like you're growing, or are you hanging on with all you've got and praying for it to end? Whichever place you're in now, I feel like I understand, at least in general. So here is my advice:
Remember, you are not alone.
If you're having a hard time, you're not the only one. If you're in a difficult place, there are people around you to help you through. There is always someone else having a tough time that you can encourage, too. (Think of it this way – you understand the hard times! Maybe their other friends don't.)
If you're experiencing a “I can't believe I'm so blessed” period, thank God for it! Share your joy and gratitude with others. Invite people over and eat cake. 🙂 Think of ways to share your wealth, whether physically, financially, or by spreading joy and laughter in your wake.
We are not alone. If God is for us, who can be against us? Whoever it is, they won't succeed. So take heart! And keep on keeping on!