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Giving Up or Taking Away

In my younger days, I don’t think I prided myself in my strength, I just took it for granted. 
We needed a retaining wall, my husband was deployed, so with my boys (we had six at the time, the oldest was 12) we built a cement retaining wall. Those 60 lb cement bags had to be carried as a two-man team. Those cement blocks had to be carried one block at a time.
I was forty, pregnant (with #7) and very tired. 
Every day before the temperatures rose above 100, we worked for a morning.
Then I’d reward them with a slushy, then we’d work another hour. 
That was all I could do in one day.
But the next day, we would do it again.

Did I want to give up? You bet. 
Did my boys want to quit? Of course.
But we finished that wall. 
I could look at that wall with satisfaction. 
My boys did a good job. The wall still stands.

The boys don’t mention that wall. Maybe they’d don’t remember it as well as I.
But when they lay cement, they know how to lay a good foundation, they know what makes a good consistency for cement, they know rebars reinforce the cement and avoids cracks. 

I wish I could say, “My laying cement days are over.” But I can’t. 
We’ve moved and there’s projects with only one son here to help.
I can’t lift cement bags anymore. But my son can.

When we fix things now, I ask my son to hold the drill. 
It’s no longer for his training, but because my hands don’t have the strength they once had, even after surgeries on both of them. 
Sometimes my hands stiffen and cramp and will not move.
Opening cans and bottles—frustrating. 
Where’s my strength?
Gone.

I am most concerned when I hold grandbabies. Will I drop them as they wiggle?
I look on sometimes without holding. My heart breaks.
It is not I who quit, but God Who takes away.

Playing the piano takes some strength, but more flexibility. I persist and play, even when my hands hurt and cramp. It doesn’t flow as much as I once could, nor what I hear in my head, but I can still make the keys play.
When we moved, I silently cried when we finally had to load the piano into the pod. It would stay there in the heat for weeks before moving. 
When we arrived, the piano remained in storage, in spite of snow, rain and humidity. 
Would the strings be stretched beyond use?
When it was finally moved to our house, I played. 
It was so pitifully out-of-tune I could not continue.
My husband comforted me with promises of finding a tuner soon.
There were none to be found.
It is not I who quit, it is God Who takes away.

In the past, I read for enjoyment, for escape, for learning.
Until three years ago.
When my dominant eye, which an eye doctor specialist had been monitoring for 20 years, just lost its ability to see.
No explanation. No possible correction. 
Reading now is labored. I can’t re-train my other eye to see for both. 
I squint to see, then remember it is for one eye to do now.
I stopped reading. 
It took too much concentration. 
The enjoyment was gone.
It is not I who quit, but God Who takes away.

Two years ago breathing was difficult. Eating was too.
After a year of telling me I had anxiety, doctors finally found three cysts: on my liver, close to my heart and pushing on my diaphragm.
One the size of a baseball.
Removing them meant more loss.
Don’t lift anything heavier than a gallon of milk—for a year!
It is not I who quit, it is God Who takes away.

After surgery, symptoms returned. 
More cysts? I could not consider another surgery.
A specialist started treating me for adrenal failure.
Symptoms were explained.
Easily cries. Not able to process clearly. Stressed quickly.
My husband started doing more of what I used to do. 
Everything was too much for me.
It is not I who quit, it is God Who takes away.

Eight sons given to train.
Four sons married.
Of those four, three left—one every year for three years in a row.
Two other sons, live away from home, with ministries of their own.
Two alone remain with us.
It is not I who quit, it is God Who takes away.

We had a home and land for over 25 years.
It was good to raise our boys.
We moved. 
Here there is no land. 
We live on a corner lot in town with no privacy.
There are no mountains to see out my kitchen window, only cars and clouds.
Where’s the  three hundred days of sun?
Everything familiar is gone. 
Everything is an adjustment—
On my already stressed, unable-to-deal-with-stress body
It is not I who quit; it is God Who takes away.

My husband told me after Easter he had army orders to leave for 7 months.
Not the first time he’s been deployed, but feels like the last.
How do you become one, then be separated?
I’m torn in two.
We built that retaining wall that first deployment.
I cannot build another one this time.
We were alone with moving.
I will be very much alone without him.
It is not I who quit, it is God Who takes away.

God takes away, to empty my hands, so He could fill them with what He wants.
When God takes away, He gives something better.

When God took away my supposed strength, He showed me His strength is made perfect in my weakness.

When God took away my eyesight, He brought me to see what was really important. 
I bought an enlarged text Bible and only read it, instead of all the other books that would keep me from reading it.

When God took away my sons, He really didn’t. For He gave great daughters-in-law and grandchildren. 
And the boys who aren’t married have ministries that extend beyond what I could ever do. 
My prayers deepened. My ministry changed. 

When God took away my health, He helped me choose what was really important.
I don’t have strength to waste on things that aren’t so important.

When God took away my ability to deal with stress, I had to rely on others. 
I don’t do that well.
I have to rely on Him more too. 
I don’t do that well either.
But that’s where He wants me.

When God took away my husband, my life feels like it ended. 
I depend on him for so many things.
God wants me to depend on Him. 
I thought I was. 
He knew I wasn’t.
He takes away what I do depend upon, so I lean on Him. 
He proves His presence is with me.

Giving up or taking away?
Without God taking away, I could never know the deepness, fullness, completeness of His presence with me. 
That would be a great loss.

God takes away only to give Himself—a gift far better.


What has God taken away from you, only to give you something better?
 

Oh Lord, how long?

I'm sorry, but as I read this, I can't help but weep. So much loss. So much!

But joy comes in the morning.

God bless you abundantly above anything you can imagine!

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I write about what matters...to you---
women, wives and moms---
about your family, faith and future.
I write about what's hard, what helps and what heals.
I show you how it's done. And not done.
I hold your hand as you find what matters to the Savior.
And let go of those things that mattered to you, but not to Him.
I write about what matters...to Him.
               Sonya Contreras

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Author of Biblical fiction, married to my best friend, and challenged by eight sons’ growing pains as I write about what matters.

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