Oh, golly, what a different connotation the words “upside down” now have for all Stranger Things fans. In this Netflix series, strange things keep happening because of the “upside down” dimension of Hawkins, Indiana. And while Lysa TerKeurst is not at all alluding to this fictional dimension, perhaps it helps us better understand why she’d name her final chapter “Upside Down.”
In the fictional “upside down” of Hawkins, things look real but they’re not. The same buildings and woods and trails exist, but the rest of this dimension works about as opposite as we’d expect. Where good exists in reality, only evil exists in “upside down.” Where love and trust and hope and friendship prevail in the real Hawkins, only fear and terror reign in “upside down.”
Do you ever feel that way about your life? Like maybe your life feels nothing like you thought it would be or just is not as it should be?
Where there should be love, there’s hate.
Where there should be loyalty and fidelity, there’s betrayal.
Where there should be hope, there’s despair.
Where there should be life…there’s death.
Life can feel upside down.
In this book, through Lysa’s personal story, we are learning that God takes the broken things of our lives and puts them back together. He heals wounds and uses our scars to minister to others. He speaks peace and hope and truth into our wayward and desperate hearts, minds, and lives.
This chapter — can I just quote the whole thing here?
The first half of the chapter is a conversation — Lysa speaking to us, her readers, as if we were sitting across from her at a coffee shop. And what she shares is so life-giving, so hope-filling that there’s no way I can come close to summarizing or reflecting with any nearness to what she actually says. But I’ll try. 😉
In this conversation, once we get through the niceties and more light-hearted challenges of life (like a make-up mix-up or a stuck shirt), she dives right in:
“We’d both agree this isn’t how it should be. This life between two gardens is confusing and complicated. Dust is messy. We don’t even like to touch dust, especially if it’s made up of the shattered pieces of our own hearts.
Thankfully, we don’t have to. We can hand it over to God….
We’d nod in agreement at this thought. I’d then share a couple of verses that have really helped me. But I would warn you, the first might not at all feel good at first glance. But it’s better to wrestle with Truth than wallow in turmoil” (pages 208-9).
I have a friend who would say we should embroider that last line on a pillow so we’d see it everyday and not forget it. “It’s better to wrestle with Truth than wallow in turmoil.”
It sounds so easy doesn’t it? When life turns upside down, we should go to the Truth, His Word, and read it, wrestle through it, believe it, live it. Yet the hurts of this life can be so painful that we either forget to do this or we just don’t feel like doing it. Ugh.
Then Lysa shares a sorrowful story of a friend, Angie, who lost her baby and how through God’s gracious, mysterious ways Lysa was able to gift her an amazing portrait of her daughter that touched this grieving mama so much that she told Lysa she had shed many “tears of gratitude.” And Lysa thought that was the best description of what it is to “consider the presence of joy in the middle of an unimaginable disappointment” (page 211; see James 1:2-4 — the difficult passage she alluded to earlier).
“Tears are the truest connection we have with others, and trust is the truest connection we have with God. Angie’s tears of gratitude touched a deep part of me and helped me to think with a heart of gratitude and trust as I wrestled with my own hurts.
And doesn’t it all come down to that? Trust. Trading our will for ‘thy will’ because we know He will” (page 212).
So, it comes down to trust. Even if we find ourselves in a place where we can no longer place our trust in people, we can help ourselves put our trust in the One who is always, 100% of the time, trust-worthy. Without the anchor of trust in God, we’ll continue to flail and be beaten up by life’s storms. We’ll float aimlessly through life…feeling upside down, inside out…all the ways we know it shouldn’t be.
Just this week a good friend shared that our time in God’s Word isn’t just to learn about ourselves and how we are to live. It’s really MORE about learning about who God is.
I have gotten this message of knowing God for many years now — from many sources and at quite a consistent clip. So to hear my friend say it this way, it deeply resonated with me.
Too often I’m guilty of reading the Bible to either “get it done” (that check-box mentality) or to “find something for me.” My shift needs to come in the form of reading Scripture to get to know God well, to build that understanding of who He is, how He works, and what motivates Him. The better we know God, the more we can trust Him.
Lysa encourages us to recognize how often we are too quick to “judge the quality of our lives and the reliability of God based on individual events rather than eventual good God is working on putting together” (pages 213-14).
Kinda like baking a cake…from scratch.
“We must know that just like the master baker has reasons to allow the flour and eggs in right measure into his recipe, Jesus, the author and perfecter or our faith, will do the same with dry times and hard times. And, yes, we may have to go through some chaos in the mixing and some heat in the baking, but soon we will rise and live lives that are a sweet offering of hope, grace, peace, and comfort to others.
That’s how we can consider it pure joy today. There’s purpose in the pain and joy in the making of a life with Jesus” (page 214).
Lysa ends this chapter, this book, with another conversation — an allegory that she knows God gave her to write. It’s a dialogue between God and Jesus about how God wants to assign “her” (ie: you and me) the words “upside down” over her life. And because her life will feel upside down a lot, she’ll get really good at asking why. And Jesus will encourage her to keep asking why because “to kill the question is to kill the passion-filled purpose that will give [her] an answer” (page 219). Jesus will tell “her:”
“You’ll never know why that person did what they did. Or why the seemingly perfect circumstances shifted and corrupted the way they did. Why the destruction and devastation marched into your life. No, you’ll never know those answers. But trust Me — it wouldn’t make anything better even if you did have those answers. It just wouldn’t. I’ve not kept those answers from you as a cruel exercise of My power. I’ve kept those answers because only I can bear the weight of them.
You live in a broken world where broken things happen. In a sin-soaked world, horrible things happen. They just do. And you will hurt deeply because of these things. You, dear girl, will also watch others hurt.
…You’ll see what a gift it is that you’ve been entrusted with enough hurt to keep you humane. You’ll offer the only real answer available: ‘The Lord helped me survive and He’ll help you too. I’ll hold your hand while you find your way to Him'” (pages 219-20).
In this divine dialogue we’ll hear Jesus say to us that we’ll never connect with the hurting people through our perfections or our performance or with the “slick and shiny” the world has to offer. No. We’ll connect with them through our TEARS.
“…your tears…they are liquid magnets drawing others in. They are a river of reality. A healing for hurts. A bonding for brokenness. You won’t have to bring them answers. Just bring them your peaceful presence” (page 221).
So as we get to the end of this final chapter, let’s remember this is not the final chapter of the story God is writing in us…and wants to write through us. Through YOU.
Life will often feel like “it’s not supposed to be this way.” And you’ll remember — no, it’s not. But life between the two gardens does have hope. Jesus does provide a way through the hard things.
And you’ll remember that the pain and suffering happen because “there’s someone else in the world who would drown in their own tears if not for seeing yours. And when you make one other human simply see they are’t alone, you make the world a better place” (page 221).
There’s no saying it better than that.
Thank you, Lysa, for sharing so authentically and transparently. Your tears have drawn us in and helped us realize we aren’t alone. You are making the world a better place.
Putting all this to memory, Shelley Johnson