Difficult moments are stepping stones to joy in life

I’m sad, but at the same time, I’m really happy something could make me feel that sad.

I’m sad, but at the same time, I’m really happy something could make me feel that sad.

The only way I could feel this sad now is if

I felt something really good before.

I have to take the bad with the good.

So I guess what I’m feeling

is like a beautiful sadness.

— Trey Parker and Matt Stone

I cleaned out my refrigerator this week. It’s not that I don’t routinely give it a scrub. I clean my frig when I have a hard time fitting in one more piece of Tupperware or I discover I’ve purchased a duplicate ingredient that somehow got shoved to that neverland in the back, remaining hidden from view.

I clean my frig when I observe drips on the outside of condiment bottles and when I’m filled with sadness and feel the need to create some order in my world.

Refrigerator cleaning is not high on my list of enjoyable tasks, but I swung into the task with compulsion. I lined up essential tools that included a vacuum, a clean towel, eco-friendly spray cleaner and recycle tubs. I filled my sink with hot, sudsy water and grabbed a clean wash rag.

To sweeten the atmosphere I even put on some music. Only when I felt completely prepared for the task did I turn the temperature control to off and begin to pull out everything from that moist, damp appliance.

I read expiration labels. I smelled and looked for moldy contents. I combined like foods when safe and threw out everything in doubt. From my sink I processed the recyclables by removing lids, washing out contents and sorting like materials. Foods appropriate for composting were collected, which included veggies, grains, eggshells and coffee grounds but excluded dairy products, fish and meat.

I then cleaned the walls and racks so completely they nearly sparkled. Not a crumb or smudge could be found. Even my nose was content. In a nod to completeness, I pulled the beast away from the wall and vacuumed away dust bunnies that had been gathering for who knows how long.

The final task — and my absolute favorite, I might add — involved sorting. May I say that I’ve got one organized frig. Condiments are sorted by ethnic origins and task. Fruit can be found in the left crisper, veggies in the right. Lunch meats and cheeses in the center drawer. Even the soy milk and vanilla chai are grouped for easy grabbing. When I decide to bake, those ingredients are now in plain sight.

As I stood back to gaze at the perfectly ordered frig, my husband gave voice to my deep expectation with this word of advice to our son, “It’ll do us all a lot of good if we’ll keep this frig looking like this for a little while.”

I abruptly stopped to clean our frig because I learned, like thousands of Americans across our great country, that a job I value and has become an important part of my life, is being eliminated because there is a budget requiring dramatic paring.

As I listened to my supervisor’s shaky voice deliver the bad news — that it was a budget shortfall and not my performance that caused this cut — all I could think about was the challenge of staying graceful and positive and orderly as my world suddenly became chaotic.

“Give me a REAL life,” I pray on a regular basis. God not only hears that prayer, but honors my request in dramatic ways. I have experienced the most luscious and beautiful moments life can deliver. I’ve also known shock, frustration, horror, utter sadness and worry. Just like you.

At 49, I can honestly say I’m truly thankful for it all. Without the difficult moments, I would not be able to fully appreciate and take in the deep joy life can produce. Without experiences that create sadness and demand that I surrender, I would turn a blind eye to the thousands trapped underneath rubble in China or those now starving in Myanmar because foreign aid has been turned away by a totalitarian government more concerned about control than the value of its people.

There is no such thing as a charmed life. Life on this side of eternity includes a degree of emotional suffering, disappointment, sacrifice, worry and uncertainty. But we also can choose to apply faith to our real-world experiences. We can stop trying to press our own agendas and be willing, instead, to ask God how he might want us to serve him. We can stop trying to figure it all out and allow God the chance to lead us, instead.

We can begin by reminding ourselves and our children that we will survive periods of discomfort, as unwelcome as these moments will be. We can resolve to press on and look for signs of growth in ourselves; appreciate the gifts people offer us; value the peace that surpasses understanding; and catch a new vision for God’s plan for our lives.

Joan Bay Klope is a freelance writer and speaker who makes her home on Whidbey Island. Her award-winning column has run for 12 years in Western Washington newspapers. E-mail comments and speaking requests to faithfulliving@hotmail.com.