The past year has been a rough one for all of us. The pandemic has hit everyone in one way or another. Diminished freedom, closed businesses, canceled travel plans, school shutdowns and of course the deaths of loved ones. As most of you know, over the last nine months, outside of the pandemic our family has been on a rather painful and frightening journey. Not only was Jim unexpectedly fired from his job, but he also lost two dear friends in a tragic accident, our beloved dog passed away from cancer at only 5 years old, and our youngest son, Andrew, broke his arm in what seemed like a routine fall while playing basketball. All of these events have left me emotionally drained and frankly perplexed; wondering what God’s plan is for our future, asking how we can appease Him to make the compounding losses stop. But the past months have also left me with some insights that I wanted to share, in the midst of the story, rather than at the “end.” While Andrew’s arm has healed and he is back on the courts, Jim is still looking for employment and, to put it bluntly, Ben, Meg and Penny are still dead. My hope is that as you deal with your own tragedies, disappointments and trials, some of my observations can come in handy and I want to share them before the curtain closes on this particular season for us, when they are harder to affirm and seem less inevitable. Most mothers will tell you all the pain was worth it when they are holding their baby in their arms, but fewer by far will say the same in the throes of labor pains. Most travelers will say it was worth the journey when they are sitting by the fireside, but rare is the content person when lost and low on gas.
Lesson One: No one knows what tomorrow brings. Repeatedly since August, when Jim was terminated, I have said “I don’t care where we go. I just want to know.” As different job opportunities have come and gone, I have embraced the idea of moving to the city, moving to the country, staying where we are and moving far away. Any of these prospects would be hard, but for someone like myself who loves to plan and organize (read: someone who is a total control freak), none would have been as nearly as hard as not knowing. A week or so ago, when another seemingly viable job opportunity dead-ended, Jim told me he felt God telling us to be still and wait. Well, duh, what else could we do? But there is waiting and then there is waiting. I have been waiting like a five year old on a road trip, kicking the back of God’s seat, asking “Are we there yet?” every two minutes. I am trying, semi-successfully, to wait as in “wait upon the LORD…” kind of waiting. And doing so has stilled something inside, loosened my grip on the future, and made me realize I may not know what lies ahead, but this is nothing new. I thought I knew before, when we got up on that morning last fall like hundreds of other mornings. Ben and Meg thought they knew when driving home from their date night in November. You, dear reader, think you know right now. But, unbeknownst to us, the decision had been made and the driver was going too fast to stop. And unbeknownst to you, the detour could be straight ahead. Who knows? I know who doesn’t know, and that’s you and me. Acknowledging that God has planned this trip long before you could read a map, and that this detour isn’t really a “change of plans” at all can bring a peace that passes understanding. I have cried out “Just tell me what to want and I will want it. This job? That job? No job? I’m good with anything. I just want to know.” And God has repeatedly answered “Just want me and let the rest sort itself out.” Such an annoyingly wise and beneficial truth. It’s just like God to tell us exactly the opposite of what we want to hear, but in a way that is exactly what we need to hear. I have no doubt I will still kick and whine from the backseat in the future, but by God’s grace I will do so fewer times before we arrive “home.”
Lesson Two: God is faithful whether you are happy or not. If you know me at all, you know that I love and respect my parents beyond measure. My folks have been absolute rocks, praying for and encouraging us on a daily basis. As we have waited for news on various job leads, my dad has texted or called to say, “God is faithful.” This, of course, is true. He is faithful to His plans, to His glory and to our ultimate good. But that doesn’t mean He is faithful to provide for our happiness. So each time, my dad has reminded me of God’s faithfulness, I have reminded him that God’s faithfulness does not equate to my happiness. I have never doubted God’s faithfulness. But I serve a god who has allowed His prophets to be jailed, His saints to be martyred, and His Son to be killed. Even Jesus asked for a quick change of plans in the garden. But here’s the thing: when God is faithful to His plans, His glory and our ultimate good, that should be enough to make us happy. It’s like the saying “When Mama’s happy, everyone’s happy.” That’s not because Mama is selfish. It’s because she is the heart of the home and out of her happiness flows the service, planning and love that provides for everyone else. God is the heart of creation and out of His will flows salvation for us all. So maybe my dad was right after all, darn it; my happiness does rest in God’s faithfulness. It just might not be the quick fix sort of happiness I long for; but the kind that His prophets, martyrs and Son are enjoying even now, the kind that lasts forever.
Lesson Three: There comes a time to wipe your eyes and start faking it. This lesson came from my co-worker, a 6’5” giant Nigerian man I call my little brother. When he told me that maybe it was time to stop hiding under my desk and crying, it really annoyed me. Didn’t he know how hard the last months had been? Didn’t he understand the emotional load I was carrying? Didn’t he get it? Maybe he did and maybe he didn’t; either way, though, he was right. The grief we have experienced is real and has changed our family forever. But we are still alive; we still have work to do and there comes a time when you have to get back at it. I think Jim has been much better at this than I have, pouring himself into his music and using his time wisely. I have obviously kept working and kept busy with the kids, but my thoughts have been consumed by our situation. Analyzing it, planning for what’s next, talking through all the “what ifs” ad nauseam, opening up the wounds again and again. Sometimes I can’t help being overwhelmed by the emotion of it all. I just don’t have a lot of buffer to absorb any additional blows. Some things send me back under the desk for a brief time out. Like the time the kids convinced me Maggie had shaved her head and was really upset. But after a few minutes, I have to get back in my chair and go back to work. I don’t want to allow our circumstances to blind me to the struggles of others around me. Just because we are having a tough time doesn’t mean everyone else is off in Candyland having a grand ole time of it. It’s amazing how reaching out to encourage others helps my wounds to heal a little faster. It’s like playing “I Spy” to pass the time on a road trip; being more attentive to the world around you really does make the journey less tiresome.
I hope these reflections are helpful to you, whatever you are currently experiencing. If you are in a season of sorrow, may they bring comfort to you. If you are in a season of joy, may they serve as a “caution ahead” sign; not to diminish the happiness of today but to prepare you for any rough road that might lie ahead.