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Posts Tagged ‘change’

Today is my birthday.  I have, as of 6:55 AM today, sojourned this earth for 54 years.  They have been blessed and rich years in ways too many to count.  If you’re reading this, you are part of  the treasure and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

So far, celebrations have included breakfast with 2/3 of my guys at McDonald’s, a chocolate cream pie brought by Gayla to our graduation open house planning meeting (which of course we had to sample in order to be fortified for our work), cards that have arrived in the mail or in person the past couple of days that I saved to open today (I’m so proud of myself!), and lots of birthday wishes from Facebook friends.

I was thinking of things in my life that have changed since my last birthday:

  • I can now carry on conversations with my granddaughter, who turned 20 months old yesterday.
  • Michael is no longer an employee of Taylor University and we are in the job-hunting mode.
  • I have definitely decided that gray is okay…no longer on the color? no color? fence.
  • I am no longer homeschooling and Zach has successfully completed a year in public high school.
  • Some dear people I know who were here last year are in Heaven now.
  • Everybody who reads this is a year older today than they were a year ago today.

We tend to measure our lives by a couple of things, I think–at least I do:  change and milestone events.  One–marking the milestones–almost always forces a measure of the other–change.  It is probably good to reflect along those lines now and then, and birthdays are as good a time as any.

But, here’s a different twist, and I think maybe I’d like to make this a bigger part of my regular reflection on life in the coming year.  We are almost at the end of our year of reading through Chuck Swindoll’s little devotional book Bedside Blessings, to which I’ve referred here more than once.  This one from the other day has stuck with me this week:

God’s hand is not so short that it cannot save, nor is His ear so heavy that He cannot hear.  Whether you see Him or not, He is at work in your life this very moment.  God specializes in turning the mundane into the meaningful.  God not only moves in unusual ways, He also moves on uneventful days.  He is just as involved in the mundane events as He is in the miraculous.  One of my longtime friends…often says with a smile, “God moves among the casseroles.”

I like that.  And I will be watching for Him more often there, as I move from this celebration day into a new year of everyday.

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The sudden loss of my young friend Rachel this past Saturday night (see my previous post) made me think about a sudden loss of my own.  Five years ago this same weekend, we arrived home from Sunday morning church to a phone message from my brother-in-law, saying there was a family emergency and we should call Michael’s brother.  The news we received when the call was returned changed our lives forever:  Michael’s mom had collapsed and died that morning in the folks’ bathroom.  That was all.  Just like that.  No warning. No illness.  (She was 86, so there are always cumulative life effects at that stage in one’s body, but, there was nothing chronic or immediate that had signaled this event.)  We had spent the weekend before that celebrating as a family.  It was Easter and my father-in -law’s 90th birthday–it had been a wonderful, sweet time together.

I have not experienced a great deal of loss in my almost-54 years, but I must say that those days were some of the darkest of my life to date.  In remembering, I  have pondered the reasons why sudden losses hurt so much:

1)  We always think we  have more time.  Most of don’t wake up every day thinking, “This could be my last day on earth” or “This could be my last day with _______ ” (fill in the names of the ones you love).  Maybe we should.  (A friend today told me how her thinking has been challenged by a book titled One Month to Live.  I’ve noticed on Facebook this week several friends sending simple love messages to their spouses–have they, too, been impacted by Rachel’s death in remembering that we have no guarantee of more time?  That one thing could give meaning to something that seems otherwise so senseless.)

2)  We haven’t had time to let go gradually.  When someone is leaving us through the changes of gradual aging or even through illness or disease, we only are asked to let go of bits at a time.  We have the chance to get used to “new normal” incrementally.  Sudden loss wrenches life from our midst and everything changes at once.  We are left in a state of disorientation, and time does not stand still to allow us to get our footing before taking another step.

3)  We are faced with our own immortality.  We are forced to think, “Next time it could be me or (another) one of mine,” and we mourn for our own projected losses.

These are hard things.  If they were not, we would not be human.

But here is a thought–maybe I will post more later on these, but if I don’t–well then, here is a thought:  Each of those reasons is like a dark room.  Yet, outside, the sun is shining.  How I move beyond and out of the dark room, ceasing to live there, will depend on whether I choose to–at some point, a point which may not be the same for me as it is for you–get up and lift the shade or open the door to let some of that light penetrate the place hemmed in by the pain of loss.  Different people have different means for letting in the light.  In my personal experience and observations, faith will eventually move me toward the window every time.

Yes, definitely more later…

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Our family sits in the balcony during Sunday morning worship at church.  My voice stops and my eyes wander during one of the songs being sung.  Around and below me I see

  • A couple who will soon be relocating from the town where they’ve spent the bulk of their married years, spending their last Sundays at the church where they’ve embraced friendship, leaned on those friends during a wife’s bout with cancer, and raised their children–leaving for another job because the husband’s place of employment has announced it is closing
  • Two parents whose sons have plucked their heart strings gutwrenchingly in the past couple of years by the choices they have made
  • A young couple who has spent a year in the ups and downs of unemployment and juggling the alternatives for keeping a pay check coming and keeping the family on an even keel
  • A family home for a year from a mission to university students in Spain’s Canary Islands.  They have to spend many hours and miles on the road sharing what they do with the prayer that people will think it is worthwhile enough to invest in it  financially.
  • A single mom
  • A faithful senior couple who have dealt with the uncertainties of a cancer diagnosis in the past year
  • Junior year college students who are engaged to be married after graduation, but who have had to majorly adjust life plans for the next year because their university is closing
  • An elderly couple who have physical mobility problems and are wondering how much longer they can remain in the house which they’ve lovingly made their home for over thirty years
  • Parents of a troubled teen who has been separated from them by many miles for close to a year in order to be in a place where he can receive help
  • A grad student who isn’t sure what life holds for him when he finishes his degree this spring
  • My own dear husband standing beside me, who celebrates a birthday this week and doesn’t know what his job will be after May 31st, when his will end

I come back to the song we are singing and, fresh from taking in the circumstances of the people around me, I feel tears coming, for the words they–we–are singing proclaim

In Christ alone my hope is found;
He is my Light, my Strength, my Song;
This Cornerstone, this Solid Ground,
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My Comforter, my All-in-all–
Here in the life of Christ I stand.

I pay attention in my neighborhood and at Wal-Mart, I turn on the radio, I catch the late-night news–and the story is the same all around:  there are a lot of people living in shades of gray to black these days.  And there are a lot of talking heads countering the articulation of the bleakness with words like “change” and “hope”.  But there is this that is not being said:  When the curtains are pulled back to reveal the plans for that change and hope, the same gray cloud appears. 

There is no politician’s plan, no legislative action, no peace accord signed with the best pen money can buy, that can offer the change and hope people seek–need– in times like these.  My tears in the middle of the song were for longing met, for the singers were describing what appears when their curtains of gray and black are pulled back.  It is indeed a sight to behold.

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It was Thanksgiving 1996.  Things were the same but not the same.  Michael’s family had spent many Thanksgivings together in the years since I came into the mix by marriage in 1982.  But, the siblings had always before gathered at the folks’.  This time, one of Michael’s sisters was the hostess.  We were festive together…but not quite.  You see, Tony was dying.

My brother-in-law (husband of Michael’s other sister) had been diagonosed earlier that fall with a malignant brain tumor.  Surgery and treatment had slowed things down a bit, but they had left Tony changed in many ways and had left the entire family with a verdict that ended with a death sentence.  As it was, Tony had highs and lows over the first half of the next year and he died late that summer.

I have two memories of the Thanksgiving I’m recalling: One is that before and during dinner, we were trying very hard to be normal–but things weren’t normal, so it was awkward.  The other is that things totally changed after dinner.  As we began to share around the table, words and emotions and sentiments tumbled out that should have been a regular, steady trickle of love and affection over many years before.  But, it was a case of better late than never in some respects, and I believe some new good things in the family began that day that have been sustaining in times since then.  The culminating expression of that table time was some singing together.  I’m not sure what else we sang, but I do remember this one:

God will make a way, when there seems to be no way.
He works in ways we cannot see; He will make a way for me.
He will be my guide, hold me closely to His side.
With love and strength for each new day–He will make a way…
He will make a way.

And He did. 

Fast forward to the winter after Tony died.  Michael was starting a second masters degree.  He thought he was done with his schooling when he got his library degree in the late 70’s.  But the tenure process at his job demanded another degree and, in the library world, unless you want to teach librarians, a second masters degree is more practical than a doctorate.  So, not knowing entirely how it would be paid for or how the course work would be juggled with the daily on-the-job and with parenting three young children, we began the journey.  Our theme song for the trip was, “God will make a way, when there seems to be no way…”

And He did.

Now it is 2008.  We know that a year from now, Michael will not be working at the same job he has currently (his is likely ending in May, 2009).  What we don’t know is what he will be doing.  That means we also don’t know if we will be living where we live now and have for the past 18 years, or whether we will be somewhere else.  In fact, there is a great deal we don’t know about life on the road ahead (always true for all of us, but moreso in the face of the current uncertainties.)  But there is one thing we do know:  “God will make a way when there seems to be no way…”

He did–and He will.

   

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Yesterday, my husband’s place of employment announced it will essentially close its doors at the end of this academic year.  http://fw.taylor.edu/home/news/news_detail.shtml?inode=77392   After having worked there for 23 years, needless to say, this translates to big changes ahead.  Once the initial “trickles” found their way down my cheeks (there may be more tears to come, possibly of the dam bursting variety, but I am just one of those people who emotes via my tear ducts–poor Zach!  He is distressed by it, but I realized yesterday that maybe I should tell my teenage son that this is a good husband training opportunity–learning how to handle a woman’s tears!), I began to reflect.  I am encouraged that the thankfulnesses, the glass half full moments, the little glimmers of exciting times that just might lie ahead have been able to break through the initial potential for despair and, at least at this moment, seem to be tipping the balance toward hope.

Reasons for hope in place of despair?

1)  We are in the same boat many have found themselves in–only ours is much bigger than some have had.  We have eight months of employment ahead of us–time to pray, to seek, to plan.

2)  We have a support network.  An almost instant email after the announcement became public, a call from one of our small group friends, comments on Facebook–all words of encouragement, assurances of prayers.  And we don’t travel the journey alone–many have expressed their sadness at the death of a dream, the feeling of loss, yet in the same breath comes an expression of confidence because…

3)  The God who brought us to Fort Wayne Bible College/Summit Christian College/Taylor University (same institution of higher education, three different chapters of its history) is faithful to all His promises and loving toward all He has made.  Though we did not see this coming at this time, He has known it from eternity.  He has been shaping us in ways we haven’t realized, getting us ready for this exact crossroad.  He will show us which path to take, has already packed our bags with what we will need for the journey, and has promised to be our guide.

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Evaluate.  Reflect.  Meditate.  At the risk of sounding like a question in the game of Tri-Bond, what do these three activities have in common?

They require time for a thoughtful look at something. 

Last night marked the end of a six week small group training series in which I’ve been participating.  Each of us 40+ participants in these sessions has been stretched and challenged to see through new eyes the places and the people among whom we’re planted in life.  God created us for relationships and in the course of those relationships, we may have the opportunity to help people connect with the Greatest Relationship they will ever discover–knowing God through becoming a follower of His Son Jesus.  We’ve spent the last six weeks talking about and learning how to get better at all of that.

At the end of our gathering last evening, our leader had each of us take two sticky notes.  At the top of one we wrote “I’m leaving…” and, on the other, “I’m taking…” was written.  We were to complete those statements with words to express what we were leaving behind as a result of the past six weeks and what we were taking with us as we move forward from this experience.

It was pretty cool–moving, actually–to hear what each person shared as they came in front of the group and placed their “leaving” notes in a “trash can” drawn on a blank flip chart, while adding their “taking” notes to a blank slate.  (It just occurred to me that the fact that the “taking” poster was blank was symbolic–a fresh start.) 

I am very grateful to our leader, Pastor Bill, for building in those few moments of evaluation and reflection.  It came immediately to me what I was leaving and taking from the experience, but had I not been forced to stop and think about it, it may have taken me days or even weeks to realize it, to articulate it.

Somebody has said “The unexamined life is not worth living.” (Philosopher Son-in-law, who was that?)  I wonder if I would be more tuned in to the value of everyday if I would stop and reflect and evaluate more intentionally and regularly?  And I like the idea of sorting out what I’m leaving behind from an experience (sometimes “leaving behind” is letting go; I suppose it could also have to do with “contribution” or “legacy”) and what I’m taking away–those two actions add up to change, and change means growth, and growing is a good thing.

What will you leave behind from this day’s experiences?  What will you take with you?

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