Gradually then Suddenly

A few years ago, I picked my children up from daycare and headed to the nearest voting precinct. This move was full of what I’ve learned to consider “the norm”… mostly peaceful protests regarding daily activities. One wanted to go home, both wanted Dairy Queen and no one wanted to make a boring pit stop to vote, of all things.

As I explained the importance of my civil duty, my daughter began to, surprisingly, show great interest. Though she didn’t really understand the process, I was secretly overjoyed. She has a free spirit and a keen distaste for rules that often drops this Mama to her knees in prayer; so any sign that she’s actually paying attention is a win in my book. Now, don’t get me wrong, I married a free spirit and I don’t condone conformity, but y’all, parenting a child who says, “Mama, just open your arms and feel the wind on your body” scares my type-A soul.

Her excitement, however, quickly waned as we finished the process and made our way back to the car. She stopped, looked down at the “Future Tennessee Voter” sticker and said, “that’s it?”.

“I don’t want this sticker. I want a boat! You said we were getting a boat.”

Then it hit me. When I said we were going to vote, this cute little nonconformist, who loves to feel the wind, thought I said we were getting a boat. Wow, what a let down.

I consoled her to the best of my ability, but I could not produce a boat and she knew it. So I did what every good mother does…I soothed her hurting heart with M&M’s.

Two years later, I’m sure she has no recollection of this event, but so often I think of this as not only a hilarious reminder of a younger version of my daughter, but a reminder that life so often turns out so differently than our expectation.

I could write a book about what the past ten years has taught me and maybe I will one day, but for now, I will say that one greatest gifts from these years was birthed from the lowest of lows. I was thirty and on the outside things looked great and I spent a great deal of time maintaining this facade. I had a good job, a beautiful baby and a handsome husband. We were great, everything was great except for one thing….it wasn’t true. Sure, there were events that catapulted our marriage toward a cliff, but truth be told, we had been on a slow decline for years.

“Gradually then suddenly,” is how Ernest Hemingway describes the way the character, Mike, went bankrupt in “The Sun Also Rises“, and for me this was definitely the case. We’d ignored problems, avoided warning signs and neglected our marriage until we just couldn’t any longer. There we were, two strangers sitting in a car on a cold January day with tear streaked faces searching for reasons to keep trying.

My memory of the days and weeks that followed this humbling event are blurry at best. I became well equipped with survival skills that could at least get me through the day. But, my Achilles heel from the very beginning was how my life was never again going to look the way I’d expected.

No matter the outcome, everything was different. Our marriage lost it’s innocence that cold January day and I could no longer pretend to have it all together. And, as silly as it sounds, giving this up…this facade was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done.

I was terrified because I’d been pretending that everything was okay for so long that I had forgotten what it was like to be real. There were so many questions with very little answers.

What if everything I’d worked so hard to build fell apart?

What if people find out?

What will they say?

Who will they tell?

What if I can’t do this…forgive…what happens then? And then…what if I can?

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Things were supposed to fall into place and I wasn’t supposed to be in this position where nobody wins and everyone loses.

My struggle lead me to a verse in Psalm 37 late in the evening on that cold January day and then over and over again that week, that month, that year and every year since. The psalmist beautifully pens so much truth about waiting patiently on the Lord and refraining from anger, which I desperately needed to hear. But, the passage that took my breath and filled my eyes with tears was “Commit your way to the Lord” (Psalm 37:5). The verse does not end there, but every time I read this passage I pause at the semicolon because I feel like someone is stopping me and telling me to read those words again.

The Hebrew word for “way” in the passage is derek (deh’-rek) meaning your road or your journey…your way.

“Commit your way”

Oh, how I like things my way…ask anyone who knows me well. This was at least part of the reason things were such a mess all those years ago. I’d wanted things “my way” for so long, I lost my way. This realization broke my heart and filled it up at the same time.

Ever so slowly, and with the help of a counselor, I began to give up my way. I slowly gave up my way and committed myself to His way, His journey and His road. I mourned the life I had as I gently laid it down. I began to understand what Isaiah meant when he proclaimed “comfort” to those who mourn and “crowns of beauty instead of ashes” to those who grieve (Isaiah 61: 2-3). Y’all, it’s a trade. To find the beauty you have to let go of the ashes. Restoration, my friends, begins the moment we surrender and lay it all down.

And, this has been my last ten years…restoration and renewal over and over again. A life that values peace over perfection, grace over score-keeping and mercy over judgement. A life of letting go of my way and finding His. A life where grace flows like the ocean and mercy is renewed each morning. A life where steps are guided even as I stumble; where love and hope abound even in times of adversity. A life I couldn’t have imagined when the last decade started.

Gradually then suddenly is how I would describe how my life fell apart, but suddenly then gradually is how I would describe how God put it back together. I’ll forever be grateful for that cold January day that just so happens to be nine years ago today. That day changed my life forever. It was the day I began to trade a life I thought I wanted for a life I couldn’t have imagined. See, my friends when you think you want a boat, God wants for you to have the ocean. And, you are only one decision away from a completely different life.

Commit your way…you’ll never regret it.

~Mary Ann

***image from


3 thoughts on “Gradually then Suddenly

  1. Although more like 3 years instead of 10, this describes my last 3 years exactly! God’s way has so much less baggage. Here’s to giving up Type A!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Beautifully written. Thanks for sharing!

    Uncle Lee


  3. I miss you on Instagram! Thinking of you and hoping all is well! 🙏🏻


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