First Peter 4:12–13 says, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.”
I can’t say I was rejoicing in 2016 when a string of fiery ordeals came upon our family. But today, I am rejoicing, and I sincerely thank God for the trials and for His faithfulness to help our family through them. God has revealed Himself in ways I never would have known but for them.
It makes me think about the scripture where Job said to God, “My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you” (Job 42:5). Like Job, I had heard about God, but I hadn’t seen Him for myself. I was raised in a Christian home where the things of God were taught and the love of God was shown. I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior as a child. But it wasn’t until the fiery trials came that I got to know God by experience. Only then did I learn to recognize His voice, see His provision, and feel His arms of love wrap around me. Only then did I experience His peace—a peace that transcends all understanding (Philippians 4:7).
Those fiery trials revealed how my desire for a comfortable life had overshadowed my desire for a godly one. They proved to me that I had become spiritually complacent. It took the heat of those trials to burn away the many impurities that had crept into my heart and mind—impurities that were preventing God’s glory from being revealed through my life.
These impurities didn’t pop up overnight; they crept in without notice. Materialism, for example. That started when my husband stepped into a new opportunity in the health care industry. The income potential seemed almost too good to be true—and it was. At the time, I thought God had opened up these amazing doors of financial blessing for our family. Well, maybe He had, but we took those blessings and went our own way.
With more disposable income, I began searching for fulfillment in material things. It didn’t take long for the offerings of the world, status, and relationships to become more important than my knowing the One who had given me life.
And then, on Mother’s Day 2016, we received a phone call that changed our world. All the things I had placed above the Lord were about to be shaken and taken.
One of my husband’s clients called to tell us that the FBI was investigating his company (and as a result, the company my husband worked for) for health care fraud. For the next two years, we were surrounded by uncertainty. We didn’t know what the investigation would mean for our family.
We were beginning to think we were in the clear, but then in 2018, the FBI began investigating my husband and questioning his employees. My husband’s attorney suggested he negotiate a plea. There was no intent on his side, but the risk of going to trial was too high. My husband took his attorney’s advice and struck a plea that resulted in his being incarcerated until 2021.
Before my husband’s incarceration, however, our family faced another fiery trial when our son became ill due to a cavernous malformation, a rare abnormality of blood vessels that led to bleeding on his brain. As a mother, I was scared to death. Then a few months after his diagnosis, things got even worse.
One fiery trial after another sought to destroy our family. We lost our home to a fire caused by a malfunction in the electrical box between the second and third stories. Someone broke into our daughter’s apartment carrying a knife. Then the government placed a lien on our assets. Even now, I wait to see how that situation will be resolved.
There were moments during these trials that I thought I was going to go crazy. As a wife and mother, I’ve always assumed the responsibility of making sure my family is safe, happy, and enjoying life. So when all of those fires blazed their paths through our lives, I desperately tried to extinguish them and lift our family’s burdens. But it seemed the more I tried, the more complicated our lives became.
For someone who likes to be in control, living with so much uncertainty was overwhelming, and fear entered my life with paralyzing force. Night after night, I lay awake, wondering what would become of my family. What if we lost everything? What if my children and I became homeless? How would I sustain my family? Could our marriage withstand prison? What if my husband was hurt? My imagination summoned every possible situation. Panic attacks began to strike their heavy blows upon my heart and mind.
Soon, any situation that felt out of my control put me out of commission. I panicked when my kids left my sight or if I had to travel. I canceled trips because I was too afraid to get on an airplane. Family and friends were concerned about my level of anxiety, but I deflected their concern, giving them excuses as to why I couldn’t do this or that. The reality was, I was just too afraid.
When life seemed too painful to bear, I finally realized my need for God. I’d grown up around the things of God, yes, but because my home life had been so beautiful, I’d never felt the need to trust Him with my daily living. I had all I needed—and I thank God for that—but the absence of trials had resulted in my living apart from Him. I’d pray from time to time, yes, but after I prayed, I’d go on about my day without giving God another thought.
But with my life so suddenly turned upside down, I finally cried out to Him in surrender, “Lord, forgive me for living my life apart from You all these years. Forgive me for desiring the things of the world more than I desired You. My life has become such a mess! I’m tired, confused, afraid, and frustrated. I don’t know what’s happening or why. I need You, God. I need You to take care of us. I need You to take control.”
God, in His grace, wrapped His loving arms around me and held me close. He became my refuge (Psalm 18), an ever-present help in my time of need (Psalm 46:1). I learned that, while I had taken my eyes off God, He had never taken His eyes off me or my family. He was so close, all that time, just waiting for us to call upon His name and invite Him into our lives.
With this revelation, I began devouring God’s Word, and it brought peace to my anxious mind. Philippians 4:6–8 became my lifeline. Instead of being worried about uncertain situations, I began to pray about them. I told God what I needed and put every concern in His hands. And when I did, His peace guarded my heart and mind and kept me from going down dark, anxious trails.
Now that’s not to say I don’t ever get anxious anymore. Even while this story was being written, I had a major anxiety attack. I had just told myself, “Wow, Denise. You’re doing really well! You are trusting God and growing in your faith.” And then, WHAM! Fear knocked me off my feet.
It happened when I heard a rumor that my husband and several other inmates had been transferred to another facility. We received no other information about their location. With the COVID-19 situation, I quickly became concerned. Those concerns, left unchecked, inevitably led to “what if” scenarios that opened a door for the enemy to attack me with fear (1 Peter 5:8).
In my bed that night, dark thoughts invaded my mind, convincing me that my husband was going to die. My imagination grew until I could hardly breathe. There was so much darkness in my room. I lay awake all night, and the next day I couldn’t even get out of bed.
But God, who is so full of grace, didn’t chastise me. He didn’t condemn me for being overwhelmed by those anxious thoughts. Instead, He helped me by putting my name on the heart of two sisters in Christ who reached out to me by phone at just the right time. God’s Holy Spirit gave these women the encouraging words and powerful prayers that helped me get back on my feet and stand firm in my faith. They helped me identify truths that will let me win my next battle against fear. And they helped me see that, while I might not have won that battle, I was winning the war. I’ve come so far and learned so much that will help others, maybe even you, have victory.
If you’ve ever dealt with anxiety, you know how helpless you can feel when fear strikes. I’d like to share some of the things that have helped me.
First, I’ve discovered that the cure for anxiety is Jesus. He is the name above everything, including fear (Philippians 2:9). When I feel anxiety setting in, I immediately speak His name. I say, “Jesus, I need You now. Jesus, cover my mind.” I keep saying His name until peace comes. It helps to fill my space with Christian music. As I worship God through prayer and song, the darkness flees.
I have learned to monitor my mind. If I don’t pay attention to what I’m thinking about, “what if” questions and imaginary conversations will take me captive. This requires a conscious effort because fearful thoughts are as natural to me as breathing. Training my mind to think differently hasn’t been easy. I’ve had to be patient in the process.
When I discover that my thoughts are not God’s thoughts toward me or my situation, I quickly replace them with His truth. As 2 Corinthians 10:5 says, I take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ. I have to study the Bible in order to know God’s truth and recognize the enemy’s attacks on my mind. I take God’s truth and speak it back to those fearful thoughts, and they flee.
As I’ve sought God’s truth, it has become my lifeline. I remember being at the Red Roof Inn after our house burned, pleading with God for a word of encouragement. I opened up my daily devotional, and there it was, Proverbs 3:25–26: “Have no fear of sudden disaster or of the ruin that overtakes the wicked, for the Lord will be at your side and will keep your foot from being snared.” It was the perfect word at just the right time. God reminded me that all the sudden
disasters in this world were no match for Him. Claiming this promise let me lie down and sleep, even while my house was still smoldering and my husband’s case was heating up.
Life will always have uncertainties. Not even a genius can figure out what tomorrow holds; only God knows the future. So I’ve decided it’s best to go ahead and just give tomorrow to God. As I choose to trust Him with the uncertainty of my future and believe He will work all the details out for my good and His glory (Romans 8:28), I find peace. I make it a practice to visually take my concerns in my hands and then hand them over to Him. Then I go to my knees, because that’s where I win the war. There, I find peace in knowing that, as I’m praying, God is fighting my battles (Exodus 14:14). He is giving me the victory.
Here is a common prayer for me: “Lord, today I choose to give You my husband, his case, and our marriage. I choose to give You our children and the future of our family. I choose to give You our possessions. Take it all, Lord, it’s Yours anyway. Teach me what You want me to learn and bring my family to where You want us to be.”
There is so much power in prayer. Listen to how acknowledging my need for God and trusting Him impacts my life. Proverbs 3:5–8 says: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil. This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones.” When I trust God, I find direction, health (physical and mental), and strength for the journey.
Now, instead of waiting for a crisis, I acknowledge my need for God before my day even begins. When I rise, I say: “Good morning, God. How are You? What is on Your agenda for me today?” My heart’s desire is for God to order my steps so that His perfect will unfolds.
There’s no room for anxiety when I’m walking with God. It stays in check when I keep my eyes on Him and take each day as it comes. If I look too far into the future, I become overwhelmed. I can’t change tomorrow, so there’s no use wasting my energy worrying about it (Matthew 6:27).
I have to admit, I often want God to hurry up and show me what is going to happen. There’s still so much uncertainty about our assets and our financial responsibilities. It’s my nature to want to know what lies ahead. But I’m learning to trust God’s timing. Sometimes, I just have to tell myself, “There ain’t no need to keep looking in the oven. The cake’ll be done when the cake is done.”
I know it’s true. God is cooking up something beautiful for my family and me. When it’s ready—when He’s done working in our situation—He’s going to take that cake out of the oven, and it will be perfect. I just have to be patient. If I’m not, if I rush things, I’ll have a half-baked cake, and who wants that?
So I wait, and in the meantime, I thank Him for how good His cake will be when it’s finished. I thank Him for all the many blessings He’s already given me—for the fact I’m still standing! And I look for the many sweet gifts that He provides each day. They are all around me if I just remember to look up instead of focusing on my trials.
This is how I face each day. Learning to trust has helped me to not only survive but to thrive during my fiery trials. I believe that, as you put these things into practice, you can thrive too. You can defeat anxiety and remain in perfect peace, even when your world is blazing out of control. You might even be excited, as I am, about what God is cooking up for you.
Don’t let the uncertainties of tomorrow cause you to take your eyes off God. He’s got your tomorrows. He’s got you. He’s got your family and your situation. And He will not fail you. I’m living proof!
I’m telling you—right now, God’s at work in ways you can’t see. He’s cooking up something beautiful just for you in the heat of those fiery trials. Trust Him with the process.